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The Mental Health Association

To better acquaint our members and the greater community with our grantees, we will be highlighting some of the nonprofit organizations that we support. This quarter, we talked to Shannon Aleshire at the Mental Health Association of Frederick County.

Tell us a little about the mission of the Mental Health Association

Our mission is to build a strong foundation of emotional wellness for the whole community. We do that by working with parents, educators, and child care providers to prepare resilient children—kids with the mental and emotional strength to face life’s challenges. The Mental Health Association (MHA) also secures vulnerable families by ensuring safe environments and supportive relationships for children in troubled situations. We’re also there when suicidal thoughts, incidents of abuse, and other life-changing crises come up—to stand with you and face these crises together. Finally, we don’t just work on an individual level—we support our whole community through mental health education and advocacy.

What are some of your goals for your organization for 2019?

Each one of our 12 programs have established goals for the quality and quantity of service delivery. In addition, the Board developed an updated strategic plan last year that will guide our agency goals over the coming years. Believe it or not, MHA has been in its ‘new’ building for six years this spring—and we are beginning to run out of space. Luckily, we have 4,000 sq ft of unfinished space. Much of our time will be spent on goals to look at how we can make the best use of our space. In addition, we are examining the feasibility and return on investment of offering Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to mental health professionals and working to make MHA’s substantial role in the area of substance use disorder clear to the public, donors and governmental entities.

You have received grants in the past from the Women’s Giving Circle, share with us some of the success you have had by receiving grants from us?

The Women’s Giving Circle (WGC) has been extremely generous in its support of several MHA programs that support women and children—, especially Healthy Families, a home visiting program that supports first-time parents, and Parent Coaching. We know that Frederick’s future prosperity depends on our next generation being healthy and well-adjusted. The families served in these MHA programs are either involved with the Department of Social Services or assessed at a high-risk for future involvement. Many times, the mothers we serve have experienced trauma or toxic stress in their own childhoods and haven’t developed the skills necessary to help themselves and their children.

Stephanie was struggling with the death of her mother and her daughter Courtney was living in foster care because she wasn’t mentally stable enough to care for an infant. Soon after, she fell into a depression. Her only contact with Courtney was during weekly visits at the Department of Social Services (DSS).

When MHA’s Parent Coach started working with Stephanie, she made it clear she wanted Courtney back and was willing to comply with the stipulations of DSS. Stephanie was very motivated, never missing a session and engaging in each visit. The Parent Coach helped Stephanie develop goals and form a plan for achieving them. She helped Stephanie understand that much like a house, Courtney’s brain was being built. That process started before birth and could continue into adulthood. This period in Courtney’s life was the foundation of the house and positive early experiences meant better outcomes for Courtney.

The Parent Coach knew that brains are built from the bottom up and that cognitive, emotional and social capacity are deeply entwined and interconnected. She showed Stephanie that when Courtney cooed or babbled and she responded with a smile or by talking, it was like the process of serve and return in a tennis game and it helped Courtney’s brain develop. During the visits, the Parent Coach started to observe more of these positive and loving interactions with Courtney.

After five months, DSS allowed unsupervised visits to begin and Stephanie found full-time work. This represented the achievement of two of her goals! Stephanie had always been engaged during the visits, and now she was beginning to share more information about her past. The Parent Coach shared that living in situations where there is toxic stress, like poverty or abuse, can disrupt the developing brain and make it harder for children to learn and self-regulate. It can also weaken the body’s defense system to fight disease and mental illness. This new information further motivated Stephanie to provide a different childhood for Courtney.

During their journey, the Parent Coach observed major changes in Stephanie’s motivation, communication skills, parenting skills, and overall outlook of life. She is sensitive to Courtney’s needs and able to meet her own needs. This led to the DSS Social Worker allowing overnight visits, and during the next court hearing, she provided a recommend that Courtney be reunified with her mom on a permanent basis.

By investing in children, the WGC takes advantage of a critical period in brain development. Getting it right during this time is less costly, to individuals and society, than remediating problems later.

What events or opportunities to get involved are available to those who may want to get involved more with your organization this year?

MHA has a plethora of opportunities to get involved. These range from volunteering at an event to serving as a Court Appointed Special Advocate to being on the Board or a board committee. One of the best ways to find out more about MHA and where you might like to get involved is to attend a Mental Health Matters Hour, where you will tour our mission through the stories of our clients. Check MHA’s Facebook page for dates and times.


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