Prioritizing Hope Through Community Connection

Our sense of SELF.
Our sense of WELLNESS.

We carry forward with each. We wear them like armor, sink into them like a deep unforeseen hole, or hold them up brazenly like a golden ray of sun. Somedays we may vacillate and float between which way to carry them. Other days we may have more clarity.

As of late, I am guessing, that most of us have spent some time reckoning with both our sense of self and our sense of wellness. Headlines tell us that nearly 50% of Americans report that these past three months have been detrimental to their mental health. This from a system in the US where already, 1 in 5 adults endure mental illness each year and yet less than half receive treatment.

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to close it seems to be the perfect time to have a frank conversation about the way forward. How do we bring folks back to a sense of hope, give them the tools that they need to wade through uncertainty, and open the space for them to process and move through their anxiety, fear, or struggle?

Fortunately, for community members in Santa Cruz County there are programs devoted to helping people struggling with mental illness that include NAMI, Encompass, Front Street Inc, Haven of Hope, Pajaro Valley Prevention, and here at the Volunteer Center, our own mental health programs through Community Connection.

These programs already serve as a lifeline for so many and could play a crucial role in managing the flood of new needs. But their ability to achieve this in an already overflowing system will be dependent on whether we as a community choose to value our mental health, shine the spotlight on its importance, and uphold or bolster these programs.

The road ahead will not be easy, but the silver lining is that we have dedicated people in our community who already have the skill, expertise, and foundations in place to help.

Our program Community Connection is dedicated to helping adults lead healthier and more productive lives by overcoming mental health and chemical dependency challenges. Through our resources and tools, we enable people to provide a life for themselves and their families. We help adults build stronger bridges to our community through education, job, housing, and lifestyle support.

Every year we work with more than 650 community members and their families. In the last three months, despite the shelter in place order, as an essential business, we are still doing this work. We have honed our focus and adapted our services to meet the most immediate critical needs of the mental health community.

We are now providing daily phone check-ins and face to face emergency services to those in need of food, access to healthcare, or having a psychiatric emergency. In all, we have provided 2,111 telehealth services for adults with mental health challenges since March.

At the heart of this work, we are providing people with the tools to build hope, stability, and connection despite physical distance.

Giving people hope– One may ask– Just what does that look like?

A mother of one of our participants recently wrote us and so beautifully articulated the growing hope and change she has recently observed in her daughter.

She reports that despite the shelter in place order, her daughter is becoming a conversationalist, is drawing and playing music again, taking care of her appearance, making new healthy food choices, and reaching out to connect with others online.

Here are the words that she shared with us:

The strangest thing has happened. While most everyone is spending their days and nights right now fighting anxiety and concern about the coronavirus, my daughter is continuing to wake up from her deep dark slumber.

Could the young woman that used to have a myriad of interests and talents and emotions, really be emerging? Before the mental illness seemed to rob her of what made her who she is, my daughter was what you think of when you call someone an artist – creative, imaginative, perhaps even a bit eccentric. Yet those traits had disappeared long ago.

What could have created this change? She’s still taking the exact same meds that she has been on for quite a few years now, including the same two anti-psychotics that I attribute to having caused the zombie state to begin with.

So I’m befuddled. I’m bewildered. I am puzzled. But in a good way! A very good way. And the only thing I can attribute to this change is her work with her Mental Health Specialist from Community Connection. I am forever grateful for the amazing work they do, despite the odds!

I don’t think my daughter had realized how far she had withdrawn from the world around her.
But I have noticed it all. I remember the quirky little girl she once was. I remember her infectious grin, then the teen that didn’t quite know how to fit in, and then the art student living in San Francisco that began to slowly unravel, holding onto life by a thread.
I remember after her psychotic break, the young woman that seemed to just go through the motions to survive each day. I remember all of it and so, today, I am particularly grateful for that glimpse at who she might become if she continues to get better.
I am grateful to be given hope during these tough times!”

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As a mom with two young children, this share from a fellow mother lands square in the chest. Every parent envisions the trajectory of their children’s lives heading towards happiness into a world that supports their needs. We want to believe as parents that when our children crumple, hit a roadblock, or their path takes a truly unexpected turn, we will be there to pick up the pieces and that their community will be there too. We hope that when we hear cliche phrases like, “We are in this together” that it truly means we are going to prioritize the well-being of our loved ones.

As we look towards the coming months ahead, we have important choices to make as a community. For so many, the path has taken that unexpected turn. If not a supportive parent or loved one, who will be there to lift folks back up? The world is different than it was three months ago and for better or worse, our community has changed. We are going to face difficult decisions about what we hold on to and what priorities to lift to the top.

As a community, will we choose HOPE as a priority and will we provide the means to let those with the expertise, tools, and capability lead the way?

I can assure you that the Volunteer Center will make HOPE our priority and we will look to you to join us.

We are so grateful for every mental health and social worker in Santa Cruz County.  Each day they steadfastly choose to bolster the lives of those who are too often turned away and we are so proud to work alongside them for the good of our community.

 Learn More About Our Mental Health Services & Community Connection

Shed Hope and Sustain The Work of Community Connection



Blog Post written by Volunteer Center Director of Communications Christine Loewe. Every day she dedicates herself to promoting the endless possibilities for building new connections and making our moments more meaningful through volunteerism.

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