Community Connections Promotes Mental Wellness

May 18, 2019
Ryan Imondi

On May 18, over 1,000 kids and their families participated in family-friendly activities like yoga and rock climbing at Ted Watkins Memorial Park in Watts at the first ever Power of Wellness: Community Connections Kickoff Event. Participants also perused a resource fair of more than 55 providers, programs and services, including free HIV testing. The event was organized as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, promoting the role of prevention, social support and connection in overall wellness.

Robin Leach, Community Education & Outreach Supervisor at CII, said the Community Connections Kickoff event was designed to reduce stigma around accessing mental health services by showing residents they are not alone in experiencing pain or stress from community violence. More importantly, she said residents have the tools to support each other as they heal and help make South LA a safer place.

“There are resource fairs almost every week in South LA, but this one is different because residents are driving the process to connect and find community solutions,” Leach said. “They are the difference and we’re all working together so everyone can learn how to support each other.”

Gustavo Medrano, Community Affairs Specialist for CII, works on the team that organized Saturday’s event and said there shouldn’t be a stigma around mental health. He said it is important for everyone to see the process of prioritizing good mental health as a positive.

“We really want to reduce the number of people who might feel isolated and unsure about needing help,” he said. “We’re here to show our families they’re not alone. We’re ready to support and collaborate with them.”

Reggie Simms, a life-long resident of Watts who attended the event on Saturday, said that he has personally noticed that when violence is high, people are too scared to do simple tasks like take out their garbage for fear of becoming the victim of a crime. He said the Kickoff worked as an opportunity to remind people that they are not alone in wanting to live in a neighborhood where they feel safe.

“Crime and violence have kept people in their houses, so this type of event brings people outside and brings hope and faith to the community,” Simms said.  

In addition to the 50-plus community resource providers, the event was co-organized by Power of Wellness and Project ABC, both child-focused collaborations led by CII. Project ABC is a partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) designed to create a system of care for children living in LA who would benefit from mental health services. The group normally holds a mental health event in May, but decided to combine this year’s event with the Power of Wellness, which is a newly formed collective of organizations with the shared purpose of empowering communities and building resiliency by promoting wellness and connection. The partners include CII, Partners for Children South L.A., St. John’s Well Child & Family Clinic, Watts Leadership Institute, and the Department of Mental Health.

The Power of Wellness collective works together to build trauma-resilient communities in South LA, meaning residents can recognize trauma and adequately address those experiences through social and therapeutic support and community resources. The collaboration is also designed to better connect different services across South LA so nonprofits work together when serving a family.

Research shows that adults who experience higher levels of traumatic events during childhood struggle in adulthood with education, employment and personal relationships. Trauma can also affect their physical health with increased rates of depression, diabetes and heart disease cause my stress. With early intervention, the impact of trauma can be reduced and children can protect themselves from the damages of future traumatic events.

Liza Bray, Director of Partners for Children South Los Angeles, helped organize Saturday’s event and defined wellness as a way of moving families from a place of crisis to where they can be self-sufficient. She said accomplishing this involves all organizations combing resources and working together.

“Collaborating at events like this is so important for us to serve the whole family,” Bray said. “It’s really powerful for organizations to come together and work outside their silos for the better good of the children, family and for the community.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you are interested in learning more about mental health and wellness at Children’s Institute or need access to mental health services, please contact Ginger Lavender Wilkerson, Clinical Program Manager, 323.523.8608 or glavender-wilkerson@childrensinstitute.org.