Profile: Finding Her Niche
A midlife career change has been worth the wait for Larissa Khouw ’90
When Larissa Khouw ’90 graduated from St. Paul’s, she had “year off” next to her name on the matriculation page in the yearbook. She knew she was in the minority, and felt that almost all her formmates had some sense of direction after graduation. Now, 29 years later, Khouw can see how her meandering path and holistic approach to life led her to find her perfect career in patient advocacy and engagement at the age of 42.
Studies abroad in France and Mexico sandwiched a four-year stay at the University of Vermont, but even equipped with a bachelor’s degree, Khouw was uncertain of where she fit into the workforce. Always a people person, she tried her hand at a number of roles, including bridal consultant for Tiffany & Co., salesperson for then-fledgling website OpenTable, and event manager for various organizations. There was no shortage of available sales jobs, but, according to Khouw, “I was the worst salesperson. I thought everyone should have the product and wanted to give it away.”
Life took an unexpected turn following the birth of her two children – a divorce that led to a drastic shift to her lifestyle and the tragic death of a close friend, events that, together, left her feeling “broken open.” “When the bottom falls out, it’s hard to see the light and know what you’re capable of,” reflects Khouw. “For me, it was identifying that I was good at connecting with people and realizing that as an employable skill.”
Equipped with that realization, Khouw founded JAEYN (Just About Everything You Need) in September of 2013. The business was designed to help people at their lowest not just survive, but thrive, and had Khouw doing everything from receiving packages to selecting healthcare plans. Most of her clients were at a point of transition in their lives, but Khouw noticed that mental health or substance abuse issues were often present. When a friend suggested she look into patient advocacy as a potential career, her work with JAEYN made for a natural transition.
Khouw now serves as associate director of patient engagement at Alkermes, where fellow Paulies Jim Frates ’85 (CFO), Christine Graham ’99 (research scientist), and Michael Wall ’46 (founder) have ties. She manages the Alkermes Inspiration Grants Program, a $1 million initiative that provides funding to organizations assisting those with mental health or substance abuse issues in innovative ways. “Mental health and substance abuse disorders aren’t ‘casserole diseases,’” notes Khouw. “[In other words,] people don’t show up at your front doorstep. We are starting to see a shift in that and we want to be a part of the shift.”
Continuing to shape Alkermes’s social conscience is the top priority for Khouw, and the excitement of sharing the impact of the grant program is a daily reminder that her current career was well worth the wait.