As I go through all the files I’ve embossed in the previous year I’m reminded, yet again, how thankful I am to have been a part of Growing Up Healthy and the Rice County Mental Health Collective. I have learned tremendously, every day, whether it was through having personal conversations about the difficulty of not having a valid driver’s license, or researching a grant to support mental health, or translating a mentoring flyer into Spanish. I have witnessed this community’s capacity to support all of its residents and the way resources get multiplied with collaboration. I’ve also seen how collaboration is not always easy or straightforward but how working together, like the Growing Up Healthy coalition models, to share resources, cross-promote programming, and support each other’s efforts creates webs of support and change systems to help more people, families, and children than any one could possibly do acting alone. It has also been my pleasure to get to personally connect with so many people from different backgrounds and have real conversations about needs in Rice County and hear different ideas for solutions. I’ve learned that arroz con leche is the best food on the planet and that, whether its sambusa or samosa, every culture’s fried-thing-filled-with-meat derivative is delicious. While sometimes overlooked, I’ve seen how these personal connections can shift a board’s decision, curry resources, and shape plans to create effective change. I am tremendously proud of the members of the Mental Health Collective for the good work they have done in the past year and cannot wait to see what comes next! Thank you again for the amazing opportunity and I’ll be keeping in touch from sunny Texas.
Growing Up Healthy is looking for a Coordinator to run the day to day work of the organization. Click Here to see a full job description. If you are interested, submit a cover letter and resume. Be sure to share this great opportunity with qualified candidates you know!!
A group of dental students from the University of Minnesota came down to present about oral hygiene and answer any questions that the community members had. It was a great event! With over forty people in attendance we were able to divide up into two groups.
The kids were brought to the auditorium where they were taught all about brushing teeth, flossing, and eating the right foods for your teeth. But, it was about more than just that, it was about getting the kids engaged and excited about caring for their teeth, something that is often overlooked when dealing with health. Typically it also takes a back seat to physical health.
While sitting in on the adult presentation, I was given most of the same information that I had always heard growing up from my parents and the dentist but I thought, “where would I have learned this otherwise?” The answer to that question is that I probably wouldn’t have.
While schools and health class have the chance to inform students they have so many other topics they must cover, sexual education, drug and alcohol awareness, and so little funding that oral health often does not get covered.
As someone who is interested in healthcare it is great to see students involved in community outreach to inform those who were never educated about brushing teeth or to teach those who already knew quite a bit about oral health. Even I learned something new, drinking bottled water is not as good as drinking tap water, for your teeth.
I encourage everyone to attend informational outreach events like these, where young, enthusiastic, and educated students try to share what they know and help you take better care of your health, because there is always something new to learn!
Growing Up Healthy has a fabulous list of member/partners in our coalition. I could (and probably should) do a blog post on each of them and highlight the wonderful work they do to improve the lives of marginalized families in Rice County. But today I feel compelled to highlight one specific partner – Faribault Community Education. Have you heard of them? The last few years they were always mentioned in the midst of some controversy between the City of Faribault and the School District – but have you heard of them recently?
Let’s just say that it is a forward looking, positive, ready for action department. The new Director, Anne Marie Leland, is collaborative and easy to work with – but also driven to succeed. And she has an amazing staff that are clearly pulling together to continue to build wonderful programs all for the benefit of the Faribault community.
If you haven’t been in touch with Faribault Community Education recently, you should. Check out their latest catalog of opportunities. Like them on Facebook. Learn about all the fantastic ways in which they support children and youth, babies and adults. And stay tuned – because more great things are going to keep coming from Faribault Community Education!
This week I felt, not for the first time, how incredibly fortunate we are to have access to a large group of passionate, consistent, inquisitive, energetic volunteers. This summer we began our Martes en el Parque programming to give community members a space to come together and feel connected one evening a week. Parents got to have some time together to socialize while their children could choose to participate in a variety of activities. Volunteers from the Northfield community and the colleges came and played tag, soccer, made friendship bracelets, distributed snack, mediated scuffles, read stories, did puzzles, and so much more to help make those events safe, comfortable places for the children which, in turn, made them more welcoming and convenient for the parents.
As the weather became colder we moved Martes from outside at the playground to inside at Greenvale School. I can honestly say that without the generosity of Greenvale’s staff and administration to volunteer their school as a community space we would not be able to make these events possible through the winter months. With summer coming to an end and the changing of locations, the focus, although still on social connectedness, shifted towards also providing educational opportunities for the attendees. One such opportunity has been to participate in the 12-week pilot program of Anímate, a Positive Psychology workshop done entirely in Spanish. The workshop, we knew, would require a quiet space for the participants to learn meaning that their children should really have their activities in a separate location. Once again, Greenvale came through in the clutch offering us both the Media Center and the cafeteria on Tuesday evenings. The cafeteria is a great space for kids and we could definitely have allowed them to play on their own with minimal volunteer supervision. But we had a feeling that if given the opportunity to do more with that time someone would volunteer to rise to the occasion, and they did!
We put out the word to both Carleton and St. Olaf that we were looking for volunteers to design a health literacy curriculum for children that would take place on Tuesday evenings. Students from both schools responded enthusiastically and have stayed committed even though designing a multi-lingual curriculum for multi-aged children is no easy task. It has been a joy to watch volunteers begin implementing this program, making learning about fruits and vegetables and physical activity too fun for any kid to want to pass up. This past Tuesday parents were surprised and happy to find when, at the end of the evening, they came to get their children that none of them wanted to leave. Thank you, to the volunteers who bring energy and enthusiasm to the kids programming at Martes and all of our events, we could not provide this programming without you.
It started as a simple project in the month of December. I was getting daily emails encouraging me to complete acts of kindness throughout the season of Advent – and one of them was to create a “wishing tree”. So I did. I went to Target and purchased a few cheap ornaments and a bucket of gift tags that were sturdy cardboard. I recruited my children and husband to help make signs to hang on the tree that said, “Make a Wish (and hang it on our tree)”. And then I put up a wish of my own and waited.
After several days my solitary wish tag was starting to depress me. So I did what any good mother would do – I forced my children to participate. They each wrote a wish and hung it on the tree. Now there were four tags fluttering in the breeze.
And then one day I looked out the window and some people were gathered around the tree reading our wishes. It felt a little bit voyeuristic – to watch them reading about my family’s wishes. But then they pulled the marker and a few tags out of the bucket and wrote out wishes of their own. I can’t quite describe the joy I felt at seeing complete strangers add wishes to our tree. It felt like we were suddenly connected even though we’d never actually met. And since then, more and more tags have been added to the tree. Some of them are written on tags that clearly did not come from our bucket – which means that people have walked by, seen the tree, thought about their wishes, and come back specifically to hang them on the tree.
Here are a few examples:
- For all kids in Northfield to have access to music lessons
- I wish for hope
- That people with alcohol and drug problems get the help they seek
- To find the strength to do what is right
- I wish to always be sincere
- I wish that nothing got in my way
- I wish for understanding and tolerance
- Mathias’ grandma is ok
- Peace on earth
- I wish I could get more hours to have gas $ to see my son more
Taking the tree down doesn’t really seem like an option anymore. Who am I to take someone’s wish away? Instead – I think it’s more important to put the wishes out in the universe and see if some of them can’t be made to come true.
What does any of this have to do with Growing Up Healthy and our mission to build social connectedness? In my mind, part of building strong connections is being willing to take a risk and share some vulnerability. I certainly felt vulnerable having a giant, labeled tree in my front yard that was hosting only my own wish. But as it has grown – so have the connections that I feel to my neighbors and others who happen to wander through my neighborhood. And I suspect that it can lead to other connections, too. Maybe someone will read this and come find the tree just to feel connected. Maybe someone will decide to create a wish tree in his/her own neighborhood. Or maybe someone will read a wish on the tree and help to make it come true.
Whatever happens, I’m not taking the tree down. So come find it on the west side of Northfield and share your wish. Who knows? Maybe yours will be the one that comes true!
There is something that I find magical about this time of year. Maybe it is the first snow, the lights, the music, or perhaps the friendly atmosphere. Many of these qualities are showcased every year at Winter Walk. Winter Walk is one of those traditions that I think really lets a small town, like Northfield, shine! It lets people get out and about, to meet people they might not have seen before, which in small town Minnesota is a rarity, and it gives friends an excuse and chance to catch up. Usually winter comes around and the cold sets in and everyone seems to hunker down for the winter, but Winter Walk seems to draw people out of their homes.
This year was no exception. There were plenty of people roaming downtown, stopping in the shops and supporting the local VFW or TORCH’s soup dinner at the armory. Each year has a slightly different feel, while this year, the mild temperatures might have drawn more people out onto the streets, last year’s light fluffy snowfall also seemed to have a magical effect on the town.
So far I have written posts about community connections and about pursuing activities in fields that individuals are passionate about. Again, Winter Walk seems to rise to the occasion and supports both of those themes. It is a great time to have a community gathering, facilitated by local stores giving out hot chocolate, apple cider, cookies, and more. It also gives local businesses and artisans, this year hosted at the armory, a chance to share the things they love doing and also get support, typically monetary, to continue doing what they enjoy.
My reasons for enjoying Winter Walk every year are not because of the great sales. I like the feeling that I get of being part of a community, being involved in a group larger than myself, which supports its members, especially when they are doing things they enjoy. I also think that it would be great if there was that kind of support and community year-round. Granted, Northfield does have more of a sense of community than most other places, but there are still groups who are left out, individuals who are not supported or considered part of the community. So my challenge to those of you who live in Northfield, and even if you don’t you can still do this in your own community: I challenge you to continue that warm spirit and supporting nature, that seems infectious during this time of year, as long as you can. Whether that is a couple weeks after Christmas or a couple months, maybe if enough people start doing it we will get it to be a yearlong feeling. And Northfield might really be able to exemplify the third noun on its welcome sign “cows, colleges, and contentment”. Perhaps instead of being defined by the first two nouns Northfield can be defined by the third, wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
The Rice County Mental Health Collective is pleased to announce that there will be 2 opportunities to attend introductory WRAP seminars right here in our neighborhood! WRAP, as I wrote about in an earlier blog post, is a self-management and recovery system developed by a group of people who had mental health difficulties and who were struggling to incorporate wellness tools and strategies into their lives. As it has become more popular, WRAP has evolved into a tool that can be used by anyone seeking to meet self-identified goals. It can help create a plan for specific life events such as the birth of a child or change in job or support a lasting goal of wellness such as recovering from addiction or a mental illness.
Jode Fryholz-London of the Minnesota Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Network and I will be co-facilitating a 3-day WRAP workshop in February at the Northfield Community Resource Center Additionally, local Northfieldian Sarah Entenmann and I will be facilitating another WRAP group 1 evening/week at the HealthFinders Clinic in Dundas beginning Thursday, January 10th. These weekly meetings will take place every Thursday from 6:30-8:30pm. Both opportunities will present the WRAP program and give participants the opportunity to develop their own WRAP. Please consider taking advantage of these wonderful opportunities, anyone and everyone could use a little more wellness in their lives!
3 day workshop at the NCRC
February 12, 13, 14 9:00am-4:30pm at the Northfield Community Resource Center, 1651 Jefferson Pkwy, Northfield, MN. To register visit mhcsn.org or contact Jode at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
1 evening/ week at HealthFinders Collaborative
Thursdays beginning January 10, 6:30-8:30pm, 2908 13th Street East, Dundas, MN. Please contact Jenny at Jenny.Fink14@gmail.com or (507) 664-3500 with questions or to register.
As part of my VISTA Assignment this year I was to work on the Sparks program, something that I had very little idea about prior to starting my year of service. For those of you who are not familiar with the Sparks program, as I was, it is based on the idea that everyone has something that they enjoy doing, whether or not they want to pursue a career in it. As I just graduated from St. Olaf College, the student participating in band, choir, or orchestra, whom are not music majors come to mind. They are pursuing and getting involved in something that they enjoy doing and have a passion for.
So much of school today has turned into racing toward some future goal, graduating high school and going on to college, that we often loose sight of the importance of doing things that we enjoy. The arts, which include dancing, painting, acting, singing, and playing and instrument to name a few, come to mind. Northfield students identify the arts as one of their top sparks, yet funding is often cut for those kinds of programs is schools. Now, I am not here to condemn or comment about whether or not I think that the way schools choose to spend their funding is correct or appropriate; I believe that they always have the best interest of the kids in mind. Rather, I am trying to emphasis the importance of finding out what your child’s, your neighbor’s child’s, or any child’s spark is and once you have found that out, see if they are able to engage that spark, or if they would like to engage it more.
For me engaging my interests was a really large part of my high school and college career and continues to be an important aspect of my life today. The pursuit of activities that involve my sparks has been really important to my happiness and wellbeing, even if it is a pick-up soccer league; I am still able to engage in my spark of participating in sports and athletics. I am also able to engage another one of my sparks this year through my work as an AmeriCorps VISTA, service to others. Ultimately, the Sparks program is not about helping kids find a career that they will find enjoyable as an adult, it is about helping kids find activities that they have a passion for now and helping them pursue those activities to promote their happiness.
In this next year, Sparks will be getting a little bit of a face-lift. Originally it was restricted to Sparks Sites, but in the next year we will be expanding the scope, to target a larger audience we will be opening it up to the public so that everyone can learn of ways to engage in activities that they find enjoyable. Sparks is all about finding ways to continue to be involved doing things that you love. So, you might have started out playing flag football as a young child, then moved up to tackle football in middle and high school, and maybe you even played in college, and now reigniting that spark by coaching a youth team.
Although Sparks is aimed at helping youth pursue their passions, the value of anyone pursuing their sparks should not be overlooked. After all, we could all use a couple of activities that we look forward to during the week.
For further information please visit the Northfield Healthy Community Website at: http://northfieldhci.org/ and click on the Sparks tab.
Last week I had the privilege of attending WRAP Facilitator training in Mankato. WRAP, which stands for the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, is an evidence-based program developed by Mary Ellen Copeland that works as a tool for anyone seeking to cultivate or maintain wellness in his or her own life. Before attending facilitator training I took WRAP Seminar 1 which walks you through the basics of the program and allows participants to think through what creating their own WRAP would look like. WRAP, I learned, was originally designed to serve as a tool for people who have experienced mental illness and are looking for a plan that allows them to take control of their recovery. WRAP allows anyone to create an individualized plan for his or her wellness without focusing on illness. While this might not seem like such a radical concept, the idea that anyone with a mental health diagnosis could ever recover, be well, or take responsibility for their wellness is a radical one. Anyone who has ever received a mental health diagnosis can attest to the helplessness and hopelessness that come with it. WRAP takes this long-institutionalized lack of agency and completely throws it out the window. It provides the tools for absolutely anyone to take control of their wellness and achieve recovery.
WRAP training, in addition to teaching an amazing wellness tool, served as a safe gathering space for folks interested in mental well being to share stories and resources. It was painful to hear about miscommunications with law enforcement and healthcare providers that happened during people’s mental health crises leading to emotional trauma and even physical harm. At the same time, people shared inspiring experiences about helpful resources available at the local and state levels. These conversations really got me thinking about what we can do here in Rice County to support mental health and well being. Many trainees talked about the importance of having peer groups in their area that met regularly to talk about mental health. Connections get made through these groups leading to a type of healing that cannot be provided from healthcare professionals alone. Here in Rice County I believe that it is time that we followed suit. Please check the Growing Up Healthy website (www.growinguphealthy.org) for updates about when we will be offering a WRAP training here in Northfield (it will be soon!). I believe coming together to learn about this tool will be an excellent way to begin cultivating a local peer support network and provide a forum where we can learn from each other and work together to advocate for quality mental health resources in Rice County.
Lastly, and perhaps what I find most awesome about WRAP, is its flexibility to work in any situation. Creating a plan to maintain wellness does not only apply to mental health. People shared stories about creating a WRAP for an intense situation such as the birth of a child. We also discussed using WRAP to ensure the health and vitality of a workplace or organization. It makes sense to identify the tools that keep your organization running well and to identify signs that may mean it is starting to head towards trouble. But how seldom do we actually take the time to think about these things and write them down? WRAP provides a tried and true formula that guides you through doing just that. For me, WRAP provided a simple, flexible tool to cultivate wellness in my life. I am thrilled to have completed facilitator training allowing me to officially share this tool with my Rice County community.