A Hero is strong and brave. He or she may come from any background or family – a princess, an orphan or a farmer. Their journey is a hard road with challenges, obstacles and attacks that are far beyond what most of us face. Despite the fears, sorrow and loss they feel, a Hero keeps pushing on to learn, grow and gain what they are seeking.
Often in the company of helpers and with tools they find along the way, what our Hero gains benefits not only them, but their family, tribe, clan or community as well.
From Homer, to King Arthur, to Disney to Marvel, this is a story we never grow tired of. Right here in Santa Cruz, I see people engaging in this journey every day at Community Connection. Strong people who take the tools and support we offer and use them to transform their lives, and our community for good, despite the constant challenges that a diagnosis of major mental illness brings with it.
People who are mentally ill are 4 times as likely to be unemployed and the rate of mental illness among people below the poverty level is 8 times that of the richest 10% in America. It takes a strong person to withstand the grinding poverty that too often accompanies a diagnosis. Yet 40 Community Connection participants are succeeding as Cabrillo College Students, laying a foundation for careers, and more than 35 got and retained jobs last year.
It is brave to face the name calling, blaming, shaming and stigma that is a constant companion of a diagnosis of mental illness and to not give up, but to persist in building wellness through recovery.
Health obstacles are so severe that people who have a mental health diagnosis lose, on average, 20 years off their lives from poor nutrition, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and other preventable conditions. Yet through innovative, integrated health initiatives like Beat Back Diabetes and Avenues, hundreds of Community Connection participants lead healthier lives.
Our community benefits from the talents and work of our Community Connection participants, who donated about $250,000 worth of volunteer labor at dozens of projects for local nonprofits, parks and County initiatives. When we invest in the tools and supports people need to build their well being, our community is rewarded with enthusiastic workers, dedicated students and committed volunteers – the building blocks of a strong economy.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, please take five minutes to meet some local heroes featured in this video. Join us in honoring these heroes on their journey to wellness by learning about mental health, fighting stigma and supporting what works as a volunteer or donor.
Blog Post Written by Volunteer Center Executive Director Karen Delaney. Karen has led the Volunteer Center for more than 30 years and is an internationally recognized leader, trainer and speaker in the field of volunteerism, community building and nonprofit management. Karen’s formula for success is “hope, fun, curiosity, gratitude, belief in people and good data.”