Sarah Papa has always been a listener of stories. Just ask her friends. One of Sarah’s closest ones has long called her “a moral compass” for her listening skills.
Sarah is no stranger to listening to stories of struggle and success because of prevention work. As we’ve witnessed and helped facilitate such initiatives, we’ve seen the positive outcomes as well, spanning throughout all age groups. We’ve participated and shared in stories of youth escaping domestic abuse situations and beginning anew. We’ve had a hand in rewriting stories such as Sixpence Child Care Partnerships, from childcare providers who feel empowered to create quality early care. We’ve seen and helped fuel stories of communities assisting others in need of essential, now scarce, items.
Nebraska Children and Families Foundation has long loved being the watering can that fuels organizations like Community and Family Partnership, and people like Sarah, who do good, hard prevention work.
One example of community collaboration is when Community and Family Partnership came together with Columbus Area United Way to offer mental health services across six Nebraska counties.
Every resident is eligible to attend up to three sessions, whether or not he or she is insured unless enrolled in Medicaid. In that case, they would seek and qualify for other mental health supports. Those who attend these counseling sessions can range anywhere from elementary school to adulthood.
Sarah said that the current outreach is a holistic approach that integrates mental health into the larger picture alongside exercise and eating well.
As an organization that believes all families, youth, and children should thrive, we couldn’t agree more. What goes on inside our heads is as important as what goes into our bodies, and mental health is no exception.
Unsurprisingly, these organizations and people resonate with our belief that prevention matters, and that we can stop problems early on as a community.
We’re delighted to play a part in funding the Community and Family Partnership’s efforts, which speaks to our model of community well-being and larger statewide prevention initiative of which we are involved, Bring Up Nebraska. The new mental health outreach service, moreover, fits into our strategy of organizations working together to create the changes we wish to see.
When asked to describe her and the Community Family and Partnership’s efforts, Sarah prefers to tell the stories that surround communities and prevention versus her own. Ever since she was a child, Sarah has been committed to serving communities and compelled by others’ stories of successes and failures alike.
“I have many friends born in different countries,” said Sarah. “I’d hear their stories about coming from Central and South America. I’d hear messages of [their] hardship and their strength.”
Sarah said that as someone who has long been dedicated to community service, she’d also heard stories from working with people with disabilities who told her that despite being repeatedly told they couldn’t accomplish their dreams, that they succeeded anyway.
But overall, Sarah has heard an overarching message of accomplishment: “I’d hear from those friends, ‘We did this,’” she said.
Flash-forward to the present prevention efforts and history repeats itself. In addition to serving as the Coordinator of the Community and Family Partnership, Sarah is completing her graduate practicum in a psychiatric unit.
During this time, Sarah heard some other stories that helped her and her partners brainstorm this mental health outreach initiative. Sarah heard stories of those experiencing mental health crises that were sometimes worsened by the pandemic.
In this instance, she and her colleagues heard stories of desperation, occasionally marked with a sense of helplessness.
“What I kept hearing was, ‘I have nowhere to go. How do I address my mental health, anxiety, and depression? I don’t have anyone to trust. I can’t put food on the table!’” said Sarah.
Sarah said that as she, her partners at the Columbus area United Way, and local mental health practitioners began to brainstorm how to best approach mental health services.
“Mental health practitioners said that COVID can be traumatic for many,” said Sarah.
Sarah said that symptoms of isolation, stress, anxiety, and depression rose throughout the communities, which kicked off a larger discussion with Community and Family Partnership and their colleagues about the importance of social-emotional well-being.
Sarah said that for those experiencing mental health issues, stigmas may arise of helplessness. One of the partnership’s greatest challenges was to create and frame these outreach services.
“Packaging these services has been a challenge,” said Sarah, “By calling it ‘outreach,’ we’re making it clear we want this to be a short-term and equitable resource.”
Sarah said that this terminology intends for those who partake in these services to feel flexible and autonomous. “I’d want people to have a sense of balance and compass to know where to go,” she said.
Sure enough, Sarah still hears stories throughout her everyday life as she completes her practicum. Although the narratives may seem familiar, Sarah maintains that everyone has his or her own equally personal and important reason for seeking mental health services.
“Everyone has a story that’s shaped them,” said Sarah. “Everyone’s reasons for seeking services is different.”
So far, the services are having a positive impact on the communities, and many stories are ending on a resilient, healthy note.
Susana Oliva, who works for Community and Family Partnership as a community response coach and central navigator for Colfax County, said that residents have partaken in and been grateful for these services.
Susana said that she’s glad to see English and Spanish-speaking residents accessing these free mental health supports.
Susana, who is of Hispanic descent herself, said that she is especially pleased Spanish-speaking residents are breaking past some cultural stigmas to access these resources.
“In our culture, there’s a cliché,” said Susana. “’What happens at home, stays at home.’ We want to break out of that.”
Susana said that she works every day to debunk any myths surrounding mental health. “I say, ‘We have these services available,’” she said. “I say, ‘It’s OK! Mental health IS important, it’s not something to be ashamed of.’”
Susana said that she’s been contacted by a few individuals after they attended the free counseling sessions, with good reports.
“A couple of people have reached out. They are thankful and relieved. [Mental health outreach services] have helped them. They needed to get everything out there, just to get over the day – this [effort] is rewarding!”
These stories are familiar because they belong to all of us. Although we can’t erase the stories of struggles, we, our partners, and supports can and will rewrite Nebraska into a happier chapter.