Crisis often leads to chaos, but hope is possible

By Suzii Paynter March

There is no avoiding a crisis; chaos can come in all sizes. Everyday good people are faced with unimaginable bad luck, disasters, break downs, unexplainable confusion, desperation and violence. But none of these should be the last word on anyone’s life.

The worst thing that happens to you should not define you. But all too often, a crisis and the chaos it brings, changes everything and every relationship in sight. What if every crisis ended up on your doorstep?

McLennan County Behavioral Health Leadership Team

Waco needs a crisis hub. A crisis hub is a place that is a combined resource center that can help streamline decisions, bolster support, provide a smooth hand off, and share the load to help people in crisis avoid the chaos that can destroy themselves and their families.

Right now, mental health professionals, medical personnel, City of Waco, and McLennan County leaders are working toward building the right team to respond to overwhelming crises and build a place for Waco to have a crisis hub. Responding to the kinds of personal crises that can bring harm to self and others and finding the way out of chaos takes a team.

Through the leadership of the Prosper Waco working group, the Behavioral Health Leadership Team, the Board of MHMR, and the advice of other communities who have also tackled this problem, Waco is retooling to minimize the chaos that wreaks havoc on friends, family, and neighbors. Bringing existing resources together matters, and it multiplies the effectiveness of intervention.

The number of people in crisis and the intensity of the crises grow month by month. One frustrated man in crisis described Waco as a pinball machine – “I know I need help, but all I can do is bounce around town or be drunk or violent. Can’t somebody catch me on the bounce. I know I need help?”

Teams in a crisis hub can function together to avoid duplication of efforts; they can minimize missed opportunities and promote persistence; they can support each other in the very hard work of helping people climb out of chaos and find hope. A crisis hub team can find steps toward solutions JUST because they are together and can bring many talents to bear all at once. Concentrating services helps the person in crisis and it helps sustain the strength of the professionals working together, too.

When is the sum greater than its parts? When a small group of caring, talented people step in together to tackle chaos and come out the other side with hope. I would not know what to do if the crisis were on my doorstep, but I can be part of the solution by supporting the team that is building the Waco Crisis Hub.

Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Health care challenges face Brazos Town

By Suzii Paynter March

Once upon a time a city on the Brazos decided to settle into a system of confusing and expensive organizations and barriers that made it hard for citizens to get health care. It worked. 

In Brazos Town, more than 4,500 people now visit the two hospital emergency rooms every year — the most expensive and least consistent care in town. Better yet, more than 1,000 people visit the emergency rooms 4-12 times a year, and these are not the true frequent flyers. 

In Brazos Town, if you have a seriously disabled child born and cannot cover the astronomical cost of their essential care, you can wait six years for your child to be eligible for state insurance services. 

The base for most insured folks are employers. Some employers offer health insurance — at least to their full-time employees. Other employers, however, thought insurance was getting too costly for their budget, so they started hiring more and more part-time workers who are not eligible for coverage. The employer saves money, the health of the community suffers. 

“We added 100 new jobs!” They cheer. “So great for Brazos Town!” 

Others remind us that 50 full-time employees lost health insurance for themselves and their families. 

So more people go without Insurance even while working. If you do not have a good full-time job and an employer with health insurance for you, you can apply for lower cost state health insurance, but to do so you will have to quit your job, lower your income to less than $400 a month, sell your car (no assets allowed for eligibility) and re-apply every six months. Of course, this state insurance is available only if you are a child, disabled, the mother of an infant, or pregnant. Single? Working for $400 per month? Without kids? Nevermind.   

Caring for the record number of uninsured people becomes a problem. A program is started in Brazos Town to train 12 doctors a year. It is as if someone said, “Let’s put the burden of caring for all these folks on these trainees!“ 

Three classes at a time were in town, and this team of doctors in training and other training colleagues set up clinics where they practice for their training and care for Brazos Town folks for some services. There are waiting lists for services and referrals to specialists from these clinics, and some specialists are available only for those with insurance from employers or every six months from the state. 

The hospitals, the City, and the County budgets all chip in to help pay for the clinics and the the doctors in training, but these clinics that started out for training are busting at the seams and costs are growing every month. Fundraisers cannot raise enough money. And the City, County and hospitals have their own health-related costs, too, like emergency services, the county health office, epidemiologists for deadly pandemics, and programs for special populations.  

Last year, Brazos Town endured the pandemic like every place else. Some predictable outcomes showed that people worked together and pulled together, but the toolbox for services to everyone was exhausted, as were the health care professionals trying to serve Brazos Town. 

Sometimes there is wisdom in the right question: One 10-year-old child said to her mother at 8 p.m. after a day in the emergency room, “Mama, can’t we have a simple way to fix my asthma that doesn’t go to the ambulance place?” 

“No,“ Mama replied. “This is the Brazos Town way.”

(Brazos Town, all these incidents and more have come across my inbox this year.)

Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Behavioral healthcare takes giant step forward with new MHMR certification

By Vince Erickson

It is official: The Heart of Texas Region MHMR Center has been awarded the distinction of becoming a Texas-Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, or CCBHC, by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The new certification greatly enhances the center’s commitment to delivering innovative and cutting-edge behavioral health, substance use disorder, and developmental disability services within its six-county region of McLennan, Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, and Limestone counties. 

The CCBHC model moves the 52-year-old agency from a performance or hour-based service model to an outcome-based model and incorporating physical healthcare, as well as the following:

  • Care coordination across settings and providers across the full spectrum of physical health services, both acute and chronic, and behavioral health care;
  • Availability and accessibility of services that are not based on the consumer’s ability to pay or place of residence; and
  • Customized care where the consumer is actively involved and has the ability to self-direct services, having maximum choice and control over their services

The Center is the 24th entity in the state to receive Texas-CCHBC certification. The State of Texas has encouraged all 39 Texas Community Centers to achieve CCBHC status before September 2021.

Our staff has worked diligently on this goal since applying for CCBHC status in March 2020. Our Center, as the local Mental Health Authority, will continue to lead the way through the CCBHC model to provide high-quality, coordinated care that is accessible and efficient.

The center was also recently awarded a nearly $4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in anticipation of CCBHC certification. The grant will accelerate mental health and substance use services and staff expansion under the CCBHC model immediately.

The center’s CCBHC certification will be in effect from February 2021 through February 2024.

Vince Erickson directs the Public Information Office & #TexansRecoveringTogether Crisis Counseling Program for the Heart of Texas Region MHMR Center. You may also remember Vince as a former news and sports anchor and sports reporter in stops at KXXV-TV, KCEN-TV and KWTX-TV. He’s happy to call Waco home, along with his wife and two children.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Experts warn of impending mental health epidemic; there are things we can do

By Tiffiney Gray

One year ago, on Sunday, March 8, 2020, I attended church service with my family, drove to MILO to have brunch, then went to Michael’s to pick up some crafting materials. With two little ones (then 5 months and 3 years old) along for the ride, it was no small decision to add two more stops to our outing. Looking back, I’m glad I braved the possibility of a nursing infant meltdown and toddler restlessness to see smiling faces at church, enjoy brunch, and pick up supplies. Little did I know that day would be my last in-person church service, Sunday brunch, and in-store shopping experience for a very long time. 

In two weeks, our community will mark one year since our local shelter-in-place order. One year of hunkering down, wearing masks, travel restrictions, canceled parties, rescheduled family events, and modified birthday celebrations. For many of our neighbors, this past year has brought on much more than mere social inconveniences, but instead has meant financial, occupational, and family hardships like never before. 

All of this change, not to mention the duration, can take a toll on mental, emotional, and physical health. I’ve been checking in with colleagues, family, friends — and myself — to see how we’re doing. How we’re trudging along. It seems like many of us need a little more help, more support, and more grace these days. And our recent deep freeze hasn’t made this marathon of calamity any better. For many of our Waco neighbors February’s icy, snowy storm dealt yet another blow to a long haul of health concerns, economic uncertainty, lost income, social isolation, and all kinds of distress. Being in the dark, being in the cold, wanting for running water, and watching your groceries (bought with hard-earned wages) spoil right before your eyes has a way of layering on the pressure and testing our ability to cope. 

These pressures can accumulate, and experts are warning of an impending mental health epidemic that could sweep across the country, but especially impact communities of color. 

Last spring, we witnessed the disproportionate physical health impacts of COVID-19 in Black and Hispanic communities brought on by historical social and economic inequities. Changes in the way families interact, commune, socialize, celebrate, and mourn have aggravated existing traumas, brought on separation distress, grief issues, anxiety, and a host of other mental health challenges. But what can we do reduce the impact of this looming storm?

Check on your neighbors, family, and friends. 

Use every safe communications channel at your disposal, including digital and traditional ways of engaging. Think Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet, What’s App video calls, and good old-fashioned land lines. A carside-to-front yard meet up (with masks in tow) is also a family favorite. Maintaining relationships and social connections is more important than ever to keep spirits high. 

Tell your health provider what’s going on. 

When we have back pain, we don’t hesitate to see a spine doctor or a physical therapist. The same should be true of emotional pain. Connect with a mental health provider or schedule an appointment with your family doctor to ask about more specialized support from a mental health practitioner, therapist, or counselor. 

Talk with a trusted advisor. 

Whether it’s a pastor, a community elder, a professional mentor, or in my case another mom of toddlers, extend an invitation to pray together, to share a devotion through FaceTime, or to have virtual coffee to talk and catch up. My hope is that the outpouring of grace, prayers, and encouragement flows both ways. 

Call for immediate help. 

The Heart of Texas Region MHMR is home to emergency counseling services for anyone impacted by the pandemic. MHMR is a huge local resource with a host of counseling and therapeutic services in addition to social support and wellness resources. Whether it’s a crisis or you simply need to talk to someone, MHMR is available to help.

MHMR Crisis Line 866-752-3451

MHMR COVID Help Line 866-576-1101

Advocate for better coverage of mental health care. 

I’ve been on the search for mental health support and therapy for my family and me for several months. With my own health consumer hat on, navigating insurance coverage and which providers even accept my (really good) insurance, or accept insurance at all, has been both surprising and disappointing. We need collective advocacy to demand better. Better payor coverage of mental health services and better acceptance of insurance by mental health providers. There is undoubtedly a need – a market – for mental health care, and marketplace vendors (practitioners and payors) should better respond to consumer needs. 

A year ago, I wrote a post about minding your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s hard to believe that we’re still riding out this storm 11 months later and my hunch is that this ride of ours isn’t over yet. Our resilience has been tested, tried, and tested again, but we’re in this together to support our neighbors when they need us and to lean on our neighbors when we need them. 

Tiffiney Gray is senior content specialist for health with Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Mental Health in Congregations: A continuing ed course from Amberley Collaborative

By Meg Wallace

The first appearance of a mental illness can be terrifying, whether you are the one experiencing it or someone you care about is falling ill. Your mind is muddled, a crisis is gathering steam, and you know you need help — but where to begin? Who will help you find your way?

Chronic depression or anxiety can be isolating. You drop out of your usual activities because it hurts too much to start your day, or you fear you’ll have a panic attack in public. So you stop getting together with friends, and you miss one more Sunday at church. You retreat gradually, and no one notices you’re gone. You’re alone.

Amberley Collaborative has created a continuing education course called Mental Health in Congregations, offered through McLennan Community College Continuing Education beginning Tuesday, Jan 19.

Of course, professional help can make an enormous difference in your life. Medication can reduce your symptoms, and a therapist can help you sort things out. But living with a mental illness can be a day-to-day struggle, or bouts of worsening symptoms may disrupt a period of recovery. It can be a hard road, so hard to walk alone.

In many communities of faith, people commit to walking together. But walking with someone struggling with chronic depression or anxiety can challenge our empathy. We want our friend to snap out of their distress, and when they don’t, we’re unsure how to share time with them. A youth attempts suicide, or a member has a manic episode. They are receiving professional help, and we know we shouldn’t leave them to walk alone between therapy appointments. But the situation feels scary and confusing. What do we do?

Decades of research indicates that people in distress often turn to faith communities for support. When the congregation’s response is healthy, it can be a key aspect of recovery for people living with mental illness. But when the response is negative or unhelpful, congregations can do harm. Continuing education can help faith communities respond helpfully — accompanying people living with mental illness and supporting their recovery.

Amberley Collaborative is a new Waco nonprofit that aims to strengthen community support for people with disabilities and other challenges. In our Mental Health in Congregations initiative, we started by talking to leaders at 23 Waco-area congregations to learn how they’re walking alongside people who are struggling and how they’re helping them access professional services. We also wanted to know how these leaders take care of themselves while they care for others, and we asked what kind of support Amberley Collaborative could provide.

The leaders told us they want help figuring out how to organize care in their congregations so needs come to light and people are supported. They need to know more about mental health services and how to access them. They want to learn about various types of mental health challenges and what kinds of responses are helpful, and they want training on what to do in a crisis. They talked about needing to care well for themselves as they care for others. They want to increase the caring capacity of their faith communities by equipping Sunday school teachers and small group leaders to foster wellness in the groups they lead.

With guidance from these faith leaders, Amberley Collaborative has created a continuing education course called Mental Health in Congregations, offered through McLennan Community College Continuing Education beginning Tuesday, Jan 19. The presenters are mental health professionals, pastors, and people with lived experience of mental illness, and each of the six 90-minute sessions is interactive, with plenty of time for dialogue. Our goal is not just to deliver information, but to create a community of care that will last long after the course is over, and to connect participants with mental health professionals who will continue to support their good work in the future.

Please join us. You can learn more about the class on the Amberley Collaborative website. To register go to the MCC website.

Meg Wallace, MA, LMSW, is a 2018 graduate of Baylor’s Garland School of Social Work. She founded the nonprofit Amberley Collaborative to cultivate the kind of community care her own family has needed while grappling with disability. She continues to work as a freelance editor and book indexer while developing the nonprofit.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Finding unity through the crisis

By Jamie Willmann

In a time where much dissension exists, where the world is hurting out of a lack of love and community, and where isolation has hindered social interaction, we can find a sense of connection in the most unexpected places.

There is benefit in meeting someone who is experiencing the same trials or pain we are going through. Though we may all come from differing backgrounds, we can find unity in this COVID-19 disaster by digging a little under the surface. Underneath, we still find persons who have emotions and feelings that are directly affected by the state of the world. 

Finding commonality in trials breeds possible connection. When we relate to one another, sympathy is present. It creates a sense of safety knowing that someone knows what we are experiencing. We may not feel as lonely in our trials anymore, and it creates an internal sense of validation. 

People across the world are experiencing an influx of changes to their normal routines. By nature, we are adaptable to new environments and changes, but the pandemic is entirely on a new scale. It is bringing new situations that we never thought possible. 

We are not designed to be isolated from others. We crave community and the presence of others. As we now adjust to something that goes against our nature, problems arise. Anxiety increases, and irritability becomes present. 

In the moments when you feel COVID-19 has shattered your daily life, imagine that you are standing at the edge of potential for growth. Although you may feel anxious, depressed, or fearful, you also share in the fact that there is growth that can come out of this. You, however, have to choose that path. 

The first step is acknowledging you need help and then accepting a helping hand from your neighbor. 

There is a conception of mental health that needs to be stopped. Many believe they must appear as if they have it all together, which then inhibits them from receiving the help that could change the trajectory of their daily lives. We must break down these expectations to allow others in to help us.

Whether you are facing job loss, money problems, sickness, or family loss, know that you are not alone. Nowhere does it say that you have to do this on your own. 

Our Crisis Counseling Program (called Texans Recovering Together) is made possible by a dedicated group of professional counselors. 

— We are a team of people devoted to providing accessible, caring, and responsive services. 

— We are here to listen to you, to build you up, and to provide you with what you need to press on. 

— We are a network of community support that is here by your side. 

By empowering our communities and taking a strength-based approach, our services provide empowerment to the community and resilience to combat the fear. We believe that we are better together, and we want to help you through these hard times.

Call us at toll-free at (866) 576-1101 to speak with a counselor, or request counseling here.

We are #TexansRecoveringTogether. We are here to help you recover. 

Jamie Willmann was raised in a Christian home and was taught to serve and love others at an early age. She has a passion for making people smile and brightening people’s days. Jamie came from Wisconsin three years ago to attend Baylor, where she graduated with a degree in international studies. She now devotes her free time to self-care, exercising, relaxing in nature, and fellowship with friends.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected]for more information.

10 Waco organizations collaborate to promote free mental health services

City of Waco

Strategic Communications Workgroup  

MEDIA RELEASE  

Ten Waco organizations are partnering with Heart of Texas MHMR to  promote free, confidential mental health services available to all Central Texans. Mental health needs have risen with COVID-19, and these organizations want community members to know there is help available at no cost to the recipient.  

Heart of Texas MHMR is participating in the Texans Recovering Together Crisis Counseling Program that provides short-term interventions to help people impacted by COVID-19. The program is available to anyone impacted by COVID-19 and is designed to reduce stress and provide emotional support, as well as connect folks with other agencies that can help in the recovery process. All services are free, anonymous, confidential, and available by virtual visit.  

While many organizations are working together to promote a safe, healthy environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health can’t be overlooked. The uncertainty brought on by the virus coupled with job loss, financial burdens, education complexities, and health concerns has led to an  increase in stress, anxiety, and other mental health needs across the county. Texans Recovering Together  is here to help our community get through this crisis.  

The organizations participating in the campaign include McLennan Community College, United Way of Waco-McLennan County, Prosper Waco, Baylor University, Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Waco Foundation, the City of Waco, and McLennan County.  

Each participating organization will promote a series of social media posts on specific days in an effort to  widely spread messaging about mental health assistance. The Communications Co-op, co-funded by the  City of Waco, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and Waco Foundation, will provide grants to each organization for social media promotion of the mental health campaign. 

The Strategic Communications Workgroup is one of four committees established by Mayor Kyle Deaver in an effort to provide accurate information to all residents of Waco and McLennan County.

For more information, contact Natalie Kelinske, director of communications & donor services for Waco Foundation, at [email protected]  or 254-754-3404.

Overdose Awareness Saves Lives – Overdose Awareness Day, August 31

By Becca Muncy

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that takes place on August 31 each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death.

This year’s International Overdose Awareness Day in Waco will be hosted by the VASA (Voices Against Substance Abuse) Community Coalition, a program of VOICE (Viable Options in Community Endeavors), a nonprofit that teaches healthy living skills, including avoiding substance abuse. The event includes:

  • Virtual overdose training from Baylor University’s Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center (one session in the morning form 10-11:45 and one in the afternoon from 3-4:45)
  • Food and refreshments from MHMR Substance Abuse Services from 1:00-6:00 PM at 2220 Austin Ave.
  • NARCAN overdose reversal kits provided by Central Texas Harm Reduction, available at 2220 Austin Ave.
  • T-shirts provided by Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, also available at 2220 Austin Ave.
  • Referrals for free telehealth family counseling sessions for families affected by addiction

In addition to the trainings and activities listed above, the I-35 Interstate bridge near McLane stadium will also be lit purple in remembrance of those who have died or been injured by overdose.

In the United States, 67,367 overdose deaths occurred in 2018 (Center for Disease Control) and 70,980 occurred in 2019 (American Hospital Association). And with the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of drug related deaths have risen by 18%, as people struggle with isolation and those who are in addiction recovery programs are cut off from their support systems (NPR). Now, more than ever, raising awareness of overdose, recognizing the signs of overdose, learning how to prevent or reverse overdose, and grieving with the loved ones of overdose victims is vital.

The main goal of International Overdose Awareness Day is to bring awareness and education to the community. Jessica Wheeler-Macias, Community Coalition Coordinator at VOICE, said it’s important for everyone to know the basics of overdose prevention and reversal, and that breaking down the stigma around discussions of overdose is an important step in spreading that knowledge. Breaking down the stigma includes breaking down the stereotypes of those affected by addiction or overdose. Wheeler-Macias said she wishes everyone knew that the issue of overdose doesn’t discriminate, and that there is no one type of person who will become a victim of overdose, as victims come from all walks of life. “It can be anyone,” Wheeler-Macias said, adding that family members didn’t create the disease of addiction that led to overdose. 

Lily Ettinger, Assistant Director of Wellness of Recovery Services at the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center, stressed the importance of widespread education as well, saying, “Most people aren’t overdosing in professional settings… it’s in their homes and communities, so it’s important for everyone, not just first responders, to be empowered in knowing how to respond.” She also said something she wished more people knew about overdose prevention is that overdosing often isn’t as extreme as it’s shown in the media and that overdose deaths aren’t always instantaneous. She pointed specifically to opioid overdose, which can happen over the course of several hours, where “there is time available to save someone’s life.”

Ettinger has also seen the effect overdose education and overdose prevention has on overdose survivors, saying, “Their lives today aren’t the same as they were back then, but that’s because they were gifted the chance to survive.”

Wheeler-Macias said she hopes this event will start new conversations about overdose and overdose prevention. She hopes with the training and information provided during the event, people will be able to better identify the signs and signals of overdose and not be afraid to address it when they see it. She said the biggest takeaway she hopes people will have is the simple fact that overdose is a “completely preventable death” and that everyone has the opportunity to save a life with the appropriate training, and that the Waco community has the opportunity to raise “everyday heroes.” And in the end, those everyday heroes, Wheeler-Macias said, “Are what make the world go around… people helping people.”

For those who find themselves hungry to learn and do more after August 31, Ettinger said Waco has “a wealth of resources” including those participating in this event and beyond, like the Central Texas Harm Reduction, Cenikor, The VASA Coalition, the Poison Control Center, Oxford Houses, and the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center.

Sign ups for the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center’s overdose prevention training sessions are available at  https://www.baylor.edu/barc/index.php?id=972252 and more information about International Overdose Awareness Day can be found on the VASA Community Coalition Facebook page.


Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected]for more information.

Bienestar brings mental health focus to Latino community

Editor’s Note: July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. It is an effort to elevate voices, to listen and better understand, and to support the unique needs and range of experiences of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

By Joy Pfanner

A group of helping professionals in Waco came together five years ago to discuss the need for more mental health support for the Latino, and especially Spanish-speaking, community in our city. That group consisted of local pastors, social work professors and students, mental health professionals, and other social service providers who work directly with the Latino community or are passionate about creating equitable access to resources for this population. 

The Bienestar Latino Mental Health Coalition was born. It sought to provide education in order to increase accessibility to mental health resources within the community and to destigmatize mental health concerns and treatment. 

“Bienestar” is the Spanish word for “well-being.” When we talk about being “well,” we are not only referencing finding help and healing from mental illness. We are also talking about the following:

— learning how to manage stress and disappointment;

— “wellness” in all areas of life that directly affect our mental health, including our physical health, our spiritual/emotional health, and our relationships;

— having all of our daily needs met;

— finding healing in the midst of loss, finding new ways of coping, and learning that our mind and our bodies are so interconnected that the two cannot be separated, and we must honor and care for both. 

We felt “Bienestar” was a holistic, all-encompassing word to describe what we hope to share with the Latino community. 

As the newly formed coalition began to consider what its impact might be, it saw an opportunity to reach out to local churches and provide mental health information to their congregations. In the early years, outreach included monthly coalition meetings and an annual one-day workshop on various mental health topics for pastors. 

As the coalition continued to grow, the group decided to take a more direct approach by going into churches upon invitation and providing educational workshops on mental health to the congregants. This strategy has proved successful and the coalition has been able to reach a larger number of people this way.

All workshops are offered in Spanish, as well as English, in order to ensure that language is not a barrier to learning about mental health and receiving information about services in Spanish within the community. 

As the coalition continues to expand its capacity and reach, we hope to build more relationships in various sectors in order to reach even more people within the Latino community. 

Mental health resources offered in Spanish are very limited in Waco; currently you can count on one hand the number of Spanish-speaking therapists here. With such little access currently available, the coalition hopes to provide up-to-date information about mental health and the Spanish-speaking mental health services that do exist in the community, as well as partner with other organizations and universities to work toward increasing the number of Spanish-speaking helping professionals available. 

The coalition is composed of incredible people who volunteer their time to do this meaningful work, and all services we provide are free. Most of our work is being done virtually for the time being due to COVID-19. We have big dreams for the coalition, and we continue to plan for ways in which we can better serve and care for our Latino community. 

To connect with us, please visit us at Bienestar Latino Mental Health Coalition on Facebook or email us at [email protected] 

We are always happy to welcome new members to the coalition, as well as to talk with you about ways in which we can partner to offer workshops on mental health related topics. 

Joy Pfanner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Waco. She assists Ana Chatham, LCSW, with managing Bienestar Latino Mental Health Coalition. Joy has many years of experience providing both clinical and non-clinical social work services to the Spanish-speaking community. Joy holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Baylor, and prior to moving back to Waco, she spent about three years living internationally in Spanish-speaking countries. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected]for more information.

Helping your teen through the strangest year ever

From The Heart of Texas Region MHMR

Most teenagers strive for independence, want to be with their peers, and are looking ahead to the future. Given this, how do we care for young people during this time, when they aren’t able to hang out with their friends and whose plans may have been cancelled or postponed by the coronavirus? Below are some strategies that might help to address these unexpected parenting challenges, especially at a time when many adults are struggling to hold it all together.

Make Space for Disappointment and Sadness

Teenagers everywhere are facing losses. Once-in-a-lifetime events, such as, graduations, sporting events, and proms have either been cancelled or drastically modified. Performances and competitions for which teenagers have been preparing for months, if not years, have been cancelled overnight. While schools and teachers struggle to get coursework online, gone are the clubs, teams, and other interactions that many students enjoy.  

Though we can’t replace what’s been lost, adults should not undervalue the power of offering empathy to discouraged adolescents. In addition to feelings of anxiety around COVID-19, teenagers may be feeling sad, angry, and frustrated about what has become of their year. Words of understanding or empathy might include, “I hate that you have lost so much so fast and I am sorry this has happened. You’ll get through this, but that doesn’t make it any easier right now.” When it comes to addressing painful feelings with teenagers, offering compassion can help pave their way toward feeling better.

Make Space for Relief and Joy

The same teenagers who may be feeling upset about missing school and their peers, may also express some feelings of relief. As much as they are grieving their losses, they may also be relieved at getting out of some commitments they never wanted to keep, or interactions with classmates, teachers or coaches that may have been negative in the past. We might say, “It’s OK to feel relief now too,” while reassuring teenagers that embracing the upsides of the disruption does not minimize what they’ve lost or their worries about the impact of the virus.

Expect Friction Regarding Their Social Lives

If you’re a parent who is sticking to the social distancing guidelines, your teenager is probably already frustrated with you, as some parents are still allowing their kids to hang out as usual. To address this we might say, “I know that other parents are still having kids over, but we can’t support that choice because it doesn’t fit with what the official safety recommendations are.” From there, we can let our teenagers know that when turning down invites they are free to blame us, and that if local safety guidelines allow, we’re open to their suggestions about how they might get together with friends outdoors, six feet apart.

When adolescents can’t see their peers in person, it seems only fair to loosen the rules on how much time they spend connecting online. But all bets aren’t off. Now, as always, rules are still in order to keep digital technology from undermining essential elements of healthy development. Sleep, productive learning, physical activity and face-to-face interactions (even if only with family members for now) should not be crowded out by life online.

Allow Privacy and Time Alone

Of course, few adolescents will want to spend all of their new at-home time with their parents or guardians. Teenagers who are formally quarantined, under shelter-in-place orders, or simply practicing social distancing will need and deserve privacy and time alone. Make it clear that you welcome your teenagers’ company, but don’t take it personally if they want you nearby but quiet, or if they want to spend time in some other private space in your home.

Think about approaching your teenager with an extra measure of thoughtfulness when making requests. For example, saying, “We’re going to need you to supervise your sister for a couple of hours, but we know that you have plans too. How should we do this?” might be a good place to start.

Treat Teenagers as Problem-Solving Partners

As we struggle to figure out new rules, systems and routines for daily living, let’s remember that adolescents are usually at least as resourceful as adults. Don’t hesitate to ask teenagers’ help. We could say, “We’re all having to invent new ways to arrange our days. Can you show me what you have in mind so that I can get a feel for your regular schedule and make sure you’re covering all your bases?”

The school year is ending, summer is nearly here and there is a lot we still don’t know about how that will unfold for our teenagers, but there are some truths about adolescents that can help us through this difficult time: they welcome empathy, they are resilient and adaptable, and they appreciate — and tend to live up to — high expectations.