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The future depends onwhat you do in the present
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Clients & Staff



First Step serves children, adolescents, adults and families who require education, prevention and treatment services for behavioral, emotional and substance abuse problems.   We strongly encourage family members to become involved in the recovery process to help our clients cope with their situation as well as to educate themselves on how to develop and maintain a positive environment for good mental health.  There is no shame in needing and/or reaching out for help -- you owe it to yourself and those you love to get the assistance you or they might need.



All clinical counselors are licensed and/or certified by the State of Maryland.  We take great pride in the quality of our professional staff.  Each clinician has a strong educational background and experience in the field of behavioral health care.  They are skilled at identifying each client's specific needs and individualizing the appropriate treatment plan to meet those needs.



Fabiola Cardenas, LCSW: Clinical Director


I have more than 15 years of experience in the areas of substance use and mental health disorders.  I provide clinical oversight and supervision of the clinical team.  I craft curriculums and programs to respond to our client's needs.  I use client's strengths to devise empowering strategies that are individualized for each person and situation, helping to challenge clients but also ensuring that they feel safe as they embark on their journey of recovery.  My commitment is to provide the best care to each person that comes to First Step looking for help. 


My warmth and compassion are clear in my passion to work with the clients and their family members.  I am well versed in utilizing a variety of evidence-based practices.  I take a client-centered approach in working with clients and their families by aiding each individual to maximize their full potential in every area of their lives.  I also believe that the mind/body/spirit connection is critical for a person during their personal journey to a balanced life.


Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, dancing and spending time with family.  I love a good laugh and use my sense of humor where I can.  


Jen Graham / Davina Pratt - Office Manager & Admin Staff


As the Office Manager and Admin Staff at First Step in Owings Mills, we handle the day-to-day operations of our facility along. We're here to assist our clients needs pertaining to scheduling appointments and any questions they may have regarding our services. We love the work we do and the investment that the counselors put in with each and every one of our clients in making sure they receive an excellent level of care. We are here to help our clients reach their goals during their time here.  We are the first people you speak with when you call for treatment.  Our jobs are to take the stress out of asking for help while walking you through the process of making an appointment and answering any questions or concerns that you might have.   


Andrea Commarta, LCSW-C

I am a Licensed Certified Social Worker that has been practicing since 1977.   I use insight oriented treatment and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as my techniques.  My experience and interest is in substance abusing teens and adults and the impact of their use on the family system.   I consider myself a strategic family therapist and I prefer to treat the entire family to make it whole again.   Families are complex and adolecents and young adults face many challenges in their life. 

Luba Lebed, LGPC

I have a M.S. from Johns Hopkins University and bring over 2 years of clinical experience to my work at First Step.

I use a person-centered approach to meet people where they are as it is important to be present at all times.  I use an Integrative/Holistic approach when working with my clients.  My philosophy is that all people are unique and mutli-layered and I am able to use more than one approach to ensure your needs are met.

I specialize in:

  • Adults with substance use disorders
  • Adults with mental health and substance use concerns
  • Adults who have been incarcerated.

Kim Zuckerman, MA, LGSW

I posses a MSW from the University of Maryland andI bring over 13 years of clinical services to my work at First Step.

My approach to therapy is an integrative one.  I foster empowerment and resiliency while creating a supportive therapeutic relationship.  My goal is to create a safe, trusting, and understanding connection.  I am able to use different techniques.  I enjoy working with children and adolescents and use Solution Focused Therapy.   I focus on a person's present and future circumstances and goals rather than past experiences.  In this goal-oriented therapy, the symptoms or issues bringing a person to therapy are typically not targeted. Instead, I encourage my clients to develop a vision of the future and offer support as they determine the skills, resources, and abilities needed to achieve that vision successfully.

I work with:

  • Children experiencing bullying
  • Children experiencing adjustment problems

Erica Cohen, LCPC

I have a MA from Towson University and am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor bringing 15 years of clinical experience to my work at First Step.

I believe in building individual strengths instead of focusing on perceptions of weakness.  I enjoy working with clients from diverse background.  I have completed a specialized training program in Trauma Focused CBT to better serve adolescents who have experienced a trauma in their lives. Although some children demonstrate extraordinary resilience in the aftermath of traumatic experiences, many have significant distress or develop psychological difficulties that can be serious or long lasting.  I provide Individual sessions for the child and for the parents or caregivers, as well as joint parent-child sessions, are part of the treatment.

I work with:

  • Children
  • Families
  • Adult substance users referred by the legal system.

Sally Merchant, LCSW-C


I have been practicing for 47 years and enjoy it now more than ever!  I am working in the Reisterstown/Owings Mills Office.  My primary models of therapy are: Group therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral counseling, Insight-oriented counseling, Trauma-informed counseling, and TFT( Thought Field Therapy). TFT is an energy technique designed to deal with fears or emotional reactions to specific situations.  I work with mostly with Adults and Young Adults.


I focus on issues involving:

  • Despression / Mood Disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Life Changes and Transitions
  • Loss and Bereavement
  • Specific Fears and Performace Anxiety


Jane Goetzke, MS, LCADC

I possess a M.S. from Troy State University and I bring over 25 years of counseling and assessment skills to my work with First Step.

I am licensed by the State of Maryland as a Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor.  I believe quality treatment begins with an intake interview.  I understand the difficulties in asking for help. My interview style is collaborative; I am not the expert on you.  I am aware of cultural diversity and how it shapes experience.  I use evidence based methods to see whether we have the appropriate help to offer.  I will include you in developing a treatment plan based upon your preferences, strengths, needs, and abilities.  If we can’t offer what you need - I have the experience in the field to get you to a place that can give you the help you need. 

Jasmine Simmons, LGPC

I have a MS in Professional Counseling and Post Master of Science in Addiction Counseling Certificate from Grand Canyon University. I am a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor that brings 2 years of clinical experience at First Step. I work from a strengths-based and goal-oriented approach perspective, in order to help clients build upon their own unique abilities while providing constructive tools to help clients find ways to cope with various life stressors. Therefore, my compassion and devotion to help my clients shows by how I provide a supportive collaborative therapeutic environment in which there is empathy and critical thinking. The primary therapeutic techniques I incorporate with my clients are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Solution Focused Therapy. I find it extremely important to guide clients on how to challenge their thoughts and to focus on positive areas and aspect of their lives that can encourage meaningful self direction for their present lives or future goals. 

I work with 

  • Adults who struggle with Substance use. 
  • Adults with Mental Health illness. 
  • Adults who are court ordered for Substance use treatment.