A Celebration of Mental Health

Mayor Don Lane and Community Connection Director Gerardo Sandoval ready to honor clients at the 2015 Celebrate Potential Achievement Ceremony.

Mayor Don Lane and Community Connection Director Gerardo Sandoval ready to honor clients at the 2015 Celebrate Potential Achievement Ceremony.

Each year millions of Americans quietly struggle with mental illness due to the fear of disclosure and stigma.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that while 1 in 5 people live with a diagnosable mental disorder, nearly 2/3 of these individuals do not seek treatment particularly in diverse communities.

“It is a common burden that so many in our community face in isolation. No one should struggle alone when there are resources available”, states Community Connection Program Supervisor Laurel Hillerson-Spear.

Community Connection, a Program of the Volunteer Center aims to ease the stigma and help individuals successfully find paths toward recovery. The program offers a cadre of 10 services designed to assist and support adults with psychiatric disabilities and their families in achieving greater independence and an improved quality of community life.

Using an innovative approach going well beyond the diagnosis, Community Connection staff work with clients to carve out individual road maps designed to support clients with gaining self esteem, managing and coping with symptoms, improving communication skills, accessing transportation, grooming, or anything else that becomes a barrier to daily success.

“We offer services that are tailored to meet individual needs. We place a heavy emphasis on preparing clients for re-entry into the workforce and eliminating those barriers that have prevented them from working in the past. We also provide routine, accountability, opportunity, a reason to get of bed in the morning, and a reason to stop isolating. We connect clients with county services for housing and substance abuse issues if needed, and overall, we support them in increasing their self confidence,” said Hillerson-Spear.

cc-potential_2015_2The newest support service that Community Connection offers is Beat Back Diabetes, a program to teach healthy cooking and lifestyle options using low-cost and free resources. Weekly cooking classes are lead by a registered dietitian and regular wellness activities are offered along with food-related education workshops.

Studies indicate that individuals with diabetes are twice as likely as the average person to have depression and that diabetic symptoms are more severe for those with depression. While the exact correlations between the two are understudied, it is clear that diabetics who are also managing mental health issues struggle to maintain glycemic control.

“Beat Back Diabetes is a perfect example of the kind of services needed to help individuals overcome barriers to success”, states Hillerson-Spear.

Hillerson-Spear sees one of that one of most important roles that Community Connection plays is to support individuals in taking back their life and integrating into the community.

“Each person that walks through our door has something to contribute. Our job is to help them discover their potential”, states Spear.

Last year Community Connection served 515 community members. 20 individuals were placed in competitive employment positions, 39 were connected with a college class, and 75 individuals contributed over 9,000 hours of volunteer service.  All clients are actively involved in wellness programming and 85% report improved mental health.

Participant Larry with Mayor Don Lane. Recognized for his volunteer work in the garden.

Community Connection volunteer extraordinaire Larry who  maintains the CC garden. Pictured with Mayor Don Lane.

On Thursday April 30th Community Connection hosted their annual Recognition Ceremony in their garden cultivated and maintained by clients and staff. Clients, family members, support persons, and mental health providers gathered to honor the efforts of 75 clients in the areas of program achievement, recovery, and community service.

Additional recognitions went to 5 mental health service providers. These individuals were nominated and voted for by Community Connection participants for their excellent service

“We have hosted this event since the inception of Community Connection more than 30 years ago. Over the years it has evolved into a celebration that brings together the larger mental health community, honors those volunteering in the field, and celebrates clients who are breaking down barriers by sharing their story”, states Hillerson-Spear.

“We are fortunate to live in a county where there is an emphasis on maintaining a community wide system of care and we are grateful to have local government partners who desire cross sector collaboration”, states Hillerson-Spear.

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