Dr. Chris Koehn, executive director of Achieve Palm Beach County and one of our very first champions, shares her insight on how BeWellPBC began and why our community is poised for transformation in behavioral health.
Q: Why BeWellPBC and why now?
As a former funder, I had the opportunity to see passionate people doing what they could with limited resources to improve access to behavioral health. It was clear that while everyone was trying to make a difference, not everyone knew who was doing what and that we could be duplicating efforts in some areas while not effectively addressing gaps in others. When Parkland and the other shootings around the country happened, it moved everyone to come together as a community and start the conversation about how we could better integrate our support systems.
Q: Take us to the beginning of how the initiative came to be.
It was a process—it’s a big elephant! It started back in 2017 with funding from the Celia Lipton Farris & Victor W. Farris Foundation to support a countywide behavioral health needs assessment conducted by the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network. The result was a strategic plan to address gaps and opportunities in the county’s behavioral health system. Local funders came together to organize the plan into action. Two community summits were hosted where individuals with lived experience in behavioral health, natural community supports like faith-based organizations and service providers, system partners, and elected officials provided input on how to move the work forward underneath a new behavioral health initiative – BeWellPBC.
We were fortunate to have Palm Health Foundation take on the role of backbone organization for BeWellPBC because of their significant experience in collective impact work and the resources they bring to the table. We knew we had to engage everyone in participatory, comprehensive conversations to identify our community’s common goals and visions to figure out where to start. The process poised us for the implementation stage that we’re in now.
Q: What makes BeWellPBC different from other behavioral health initiatives?
We have a sound framework in the collective impact model that has had significant impact in other communities addressing big issues like hunger, housing, and health. And we have dedicated staff with strong experience in behavioral health and collective work that is invaluable. But having space at the table for community is the game-changer. Who better to tell us how our services are working than the folks who are using them? Wrapping support around individuals will help them get what they need when they need it and live the life they want to live. I’m proud of us as a community for doing that together. Everything is lining up to benefit our community in an amazing way and we’re positioned for success!
Q: Where can BeWellPBC make the greatest impact?
What’s special about this work is the opportunity to make a big difference along the continuum from the community—individuals and families—to the systems. We’re creating a pipeline of support, starting with prevention all the way through and looking at where we have gaps that can be filled with local resources, such as peer support. BeWellPBC is focused on tackling these access issues at an individual level and also from a systems perspective with the input of the community. Those partners are all at the table working collaboratively together, which gives me hope that we will move the needle on access and the resulting behavioral health outcomes.
Q: What early wins have you seen?
Critical to our success is the number of individuals who have come to the table and the number who have stayed at the table. The various sectors engaged—system partners, the school district, community members, faith organizations, government, nonprofit and business sector—are critical to how the work gets done. It has allowed for strong and rapid strategy development, our ability to all get on the same page, and created good momentum for the work currently underway. While we need to manage expectations and be realistic about our goals, we are doing all of the right things at the right time to set us up for success.
Q: What gives you hope that BeWellPBC will be successful? What is the possible transformation you will see in our county?
We live in a community that works together. That collaborative spirit motivates us to focus on common goals while leaving personal agendas behind for the greater good. And it has created an environment where we are open armed in bringing community to the table, listening to their needs instead of creating services without their input. I see us, as a community, wrapping support around individuals to realize our sole purpose to help every single person so that they can lead a quality life. Whatever access challenges we have today, I look forward to the day when they are no longer there, and everyone gets help when and where they need it.
While holding a highly stressful job in advertising and media, I had my own personal experience with mental health challenges. I never had a conversation about mental health with anyone, but I reached out to a professional for support, learning the tools that led me to a fulfilling path and eventually to BeWellPBC.
Therapy was a wonderful experience and took away the stigma of mental health for me. It made me understand the value of learning processes and how to think of things differently. It really blessed me.
I later became involved with Healthier Neighbors in my home community of Riviera Beach, a community-led initiative to improve behavioral health. I wanted to be able to be a part of it so my community would understand it wasn’t a failure—there were root causes for many of our issues that centered around behavioral health.
I want to be a liaison, a connector, a voice so that no community is forgotten. That’s what BeWellPBC’s lofty goal is all about, ensuring that every person in Palm Beach County feels hopeful, supported, connected and empowered. As a member of the BeWellPBC Launch Team, my mission is to make sure that residents are always represented in our behavioral health system of care and have access to resources to experience their own recovery.
That’s why the ‘BE’ that resonates most with me is Be You. It’s about being whole, being complete. Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, behavioral health recovery gets you back to YOU.
-Katrina Blackmon, BeWellPBC Stewardship Council and Launch Team member.
Kenya Madison, BeWell PBC stewardship council member and senior director of Healthier Delray Beach, shares how to manage the holidays with intention.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I have learned that many of life’s stressors are those we put on ourselves. I have been blessed to meet people who introduced to me to meditation, the ability to quiet the mind and really listen to my thoughts and understand how they influence my behavior and my life.
The holidays are an especially important time to be understood, be intentional, set boundaries and take care of ourselves. Here are five lessons that I have learned to help you—and those around you—have a happier, healthier holiday season.
1. Know what YOU want. Set your intention for how you want to experience the holidays. Do you want to feel happy and festive? Focus on the things that make you feel that way.
2. Communicate. Help your loved ones understand your intentions and your limitations and take time to understand theirs.
3. Respect differences. Be understanding of those who celebrate differently—or maybe not at all—without making them feel ostracized.
4. Set boundaries. Stay in control of eating, sleeping and spending. Be mindful of what you want to do or give that is meaningful rather than overindulging.
5. Say no with grace. Are you accepting an invitation for fear of disappointing someone? Don’t sacrifice your own wellbeing to make others happy. Decline with a kind note or call.
Patrick McNamara, president and CEO of Palm Health Foundation, shares his perspective on BeWellPBC’s role in systems change, the work to transform Palm Beach County’s behavioral health system of care.”I think most people would agree that our county has a complex behavioral health system. We’re not unlike many other communities that have evolved over time to become a patchwork of services driven by power dynamics and economics. We don’t always include the voice of the people we design services for, and in a state where Florida is 50th in the nation for per capita mental health spending, providers are focused on survival, making them risk averse to change. BeWellPBC was created to be a system change agent. Here are four ways their role is integral to transforming behavioral health.”
1. Fostering greater interdependence.
Through BeWellPBC, funders of behavioral health services are seeing themselves as stewards of shared community resources rather than siloed investments each organization makes on its own (see ReThink Health example below). We are building our civic muscle with BeWellPBC at the helm to facilitate meaningful collaboration.
2. Encouraging risk-taking.
Interdependence fosters strength and resilience to take shared risks through “safe to fail” initiatives. BeWellPBC asks three questions: What can we change? Of the things we can change, can we monitor impact? Can we rapidly amplify successor recover from failure?
3. Moving to a family-centered, recovery-oriented system of care.
Behavioral health has struggled with how to integrate the informal resources of friends, family, faith and people with lived experience. BeWellPBC is honoring the voice of the community and providing a wider lens that includes not only mental illness, but mental wellness.
4. Facilitating new solutions.
There are many well-intentioned, fragmented community collaborative efforts. BeWellPBC has a seat at every table and acts as an aggregator and a promotor of inclusivity. BeWellPBC helps to bring form to new solutions that are currently in the works. BeWellPBC is a true convener.
In Florida, there is one mental health provider for every 670 residents, making our state 42nd in the country for mental health workforce availability. Devon Lewis-Buchanan, founder and CEO of Inspired Youths and a recent recipient of a Master’s in Social Work, is taking aim at this startling statistic as a member of BeWellPBC’s Workforce Pipeline Action Team.
Q: How is the team developing paths to employment in the behavioral health field?
A: We are creating ways to attract, develop and retain a skilled and diverse labor force to support community health and prosperity. We have to help people understand what the track looks like and where they fit best in the field. We’re taking a strategic look at how we can best guide people to the experience and education they need for a wide range of career options from direct service to organizational change.
Q: Where do you think there is the most opportunity for growing the workforce?
A: We need to get ahead of the curve for addressing the demographics of our population. Diversity among providers who can increase cultural competencies in the field and meeting the needs of our aging population are two important areas. Targeting younger people to come into the field will bring new and innovative ideas for how we can best serve residents.
Q: How will this work help support your own mission at Inspire Youths?
We are supporting each other to grow behavioral health resources in the county. Inspire Youths is sparking young minds to look at the field, to see what they can do with a specific degree and how they can be the next generation of advocates who will bridge the gap in eliminating the stigma of mental health in under-served communities.
Q: What workforce pipeline project are you most excited about?
A: We are working with the Palm Beach County School District to develop a pilot curriculum for high school students to graduate with a behavioral health technician certification. Students would leave school with a behavioral health job that is in high demand, pays a decent wage and will hopefully inspire them to continue pursuing higher degrees in the field. We’re focused on that as well by encouraging scholarships, fellowships and opportunities for employees to grow within their organizations.
Q: What are your hopes for Palm Beach County and BeWellPBC?
A: I hope BeWellPBC becomes a model that is implemented in other communities. I would love for Palm Beach County to be a beacon for how we go about looking at behavioral health and asking, “What can we do? What can we change?”
Margaret Newton, A Force for Change in Education
Margaret is a member of BeWellPBC’s Stewardship Council who holds an important place in the Black history of Palm Beach County. Twelve years ago, she was appointed by the school district to develop the curriculum for all classrooms to teach African and African American studies, the first of its kind in the state of Florida. As an educator for twenty years, and now a district volunteer, Margaret recognized how important the curriculum was for the mental health of children of color and how they see themselves.
Q: How did you see the connection between the curriculum you developed and children’s mental health?
Margaret: Children need to be involved in learning about themselves. Before, people of color were left out as examples of what makes American great. Black leaders who fought for our freedoms. People of color who invented things that we use every day. There was little understanding of Blackness. It’s very important that children know that they are worthy and that they are here on earth for a purpose. They can be proud human beings because they are Black.
Q: When did you see a breakthrough as a result of teaching African and African American studies?
Margaret: A number of years ago, the leader of the Roots Cultural Festival of Delray Beach that celebrates black heritage came to me and asked about putting one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa on event T-shirts. We had been teaching about it in the schools and I saw that the request was a direct result from helping to inform the district and the community. The shirts were printed with the Swahili word “umoja,” which means unity.
Q: What do you see in this moment as history plays out before our eyes and its impact on mental health?
Margaret: I see chaos for a while to mentally understand what is going on. It takes a while to change minds, but I see a solidarity in the Black community. I see a solidarity in the younger generation of all colors. They are giving me hope. We are now shaping and reshaping the moral aspects of America, and our mental health is being changed from obeying laws to obeying because morally it is the right thing to do. Black Lives Matter points to the deaths saying that morally it is wrong to kill and they are going after the mental image that the country has of different populations—and the image we have of ourselves. If there is a mass shooting, my first thought is, “I hope he wasn’t Black.” I have been schooled if a Black person does something wrong that all of us are to blame.
Q: How can people get involved and learn more about African and African American culture?
Margaret: They can join me for the Sankofa Study Group Inc., where I serve as president. We are a diverse group of 50 people who study all aspects of the African diaspora and meet the last Saturday of each month on Zoom. We are currently reading Stamped from the Beginning. To join, contact Pyramid Books at 561-731-4422 and ask for Denise. All are welcome!
The Glades is Getting its Green On!
Antoinita (Annie) Ifill, Project Director for Healthier Glades, and a team of community leaders organized the first-ever resident-led Get Your Green On in the western communities. By engaging people who live and work in the Glades and conducting resident surveys, Annie and her team from BRIDGES, the Federation of Families and PBC Youth Services created activities for the community to heal while recognizing the qualities that make the Glades a special place, including:
· “Soil to Soul,” a program connecting nature with nurturing for youth who plant seeds in self-decorated pots and talk monthly about their growing experiences.
· Movie night featuring Disney’s Soul, the first Pixar film to feature an African American protagonist.
· A four-part mental health learning series on Facebook Live with topics chosen by the community covering stress and anxiety, grief and loss, trauma and depression.
· Mental Health First Aid trainings for youth and adults.
· An online screening of the documentary The Mask You Live In with a panel discussion to follow. (See more about this event and register below!)
“Being part of the GYGO countywide committee helped us create our own events close to home that were driven by the ideas and needs of Glades residents,” said Annie.
Annie’s Mental Health Tips for Right Now
1. Have patience. Others may not be in the same place as you for returning to “normalcy.”
2. Go slow. Take your time reconnecting with people in small groups, safely.
3. Count your blessings. Recognize COVID’s losses but appreciate life’s good things to heal.