Humans of Healthier Together
Freslaine St. Louis, Project Coordinator, BeWellPBC
Freslaine Saint Louis, Project Coordinator at BeWellPBC and youth minister at Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Delray Beach, FL became a trailblazer for removing the stigma and fear around mental health in Palm Beach County’s Haitian communities through Healthier Delray Beach. This is her story.
“As a youth minister, I understand that the first place many congregants will turn when they have a problem is their pastor. But in my Haitian church, there was resistance and fear around the term “mental health,” which conjures up images of people with severe conditions, rather than recognizing it can also describe everyday stress and anxiety.
When I became involved with Healthier Delray Beach, I saw how I could use my position at the church to increase understanding around behavioral health. I was introduced to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a nationally renowned eight-hour course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. I believed the training had the potential to reach the parents of my church’s 700-member congregation and teach them how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders among their children. I saw first-hand how quickly and easily children and teens with anxiety and stress could turn to substance abuse. I knew we couldn’t be passive. We had to have difficult conversations, or risk losing them.
Although there was resistance at first, I persevered, advocating alongside the first lady of our church who is a mental health professional. MHFA is now not only accepted, it has grown through word of mouth and parents are realizing the benefits of learning how to communicate and engage more with their children. The program has become so deeply embraced by the church that they are working on making MHFA a requirement for its leadership curriculum.
With funding from Palm Health Foundation, I became one of the first Haitian Creole-speaking MHFA trainers in Palm Beach County. I have become a trusted resource at my church and in Haitian communities across the county, breaking through stigma while respecting my culture to promote brain health and save the lives of our children.”
Betzy Rega, Health Coordinator, Community Outreach, El Sol
Betzy Rega is the Health Coordinator, Community Outreach, at El Sol Neighborhood Resource Center for day laborers, their children and families. Betzy was involved from the very beginning of Healthier Jupiter, integrating her role and her organization in the work of the initiative.
“When Palm Health Foundation came to us, Healthier Together was just a concept. We were the first county community chosen and they told us we would be the model for the others. But we really didn’t know what we were doing. It was very difficult to see a vision in the beginning. We invited people and they didn’t come, and we lost some people along the way.
The ones who stayed, we all had a big stake in it. It was about coming together as a community to focus on things for everyone to be healthy, regardless of socio-economic level. We were dealing with language and status issues and different cultures, but the more we hung on and kept inviting people to get involved, it started to take shape.
I think every community needs to be able to reach out to the people who live there and hear from them. From surveying residents at El Sol, we found out that many parents didn’t know where the parks were. So we created a “Get Fit Map” helping people learn where our parks, beaches, walking trails and schools were so they could have access to outdoor places to exercise safely. When we learned that Jupiter had the highest number of bike accidents in Palm Beach County, we created a bike safety program.
Then there was the police department. They wanted to get beyond the fear that the Hispanic residents had for the police. We canvased the community asking what we could do. We started a soccer tournament with residents playing police officers. It turned into an annual family community day and gave the police and residents a chance to know each other.
We were becoming the glue that was pulling everyone together around the table. We had the attention of local government and we also had the confidence of the community—we spoke their language and batted for them. We were becoming a vehicle toward everyone having a voice.
It hasn’t been easy, but now Healthier Jupiter is woven into the fabric of who we are as a community.”
Patrick Livingston, Founder, Arms of Hope
Patrick Livingston is the founder of Arms of Hope, a non-profit organization that helps to feed the hungry and aims to rebuild hope where it has been damaged or lost. While hesitant at first, Patrick has become an integral part of Healthier Lake Worth Beach, nourishing both body and soul.
“Before Healthier Lake Worth Beach, I felt like a man on an island. You’re in an area that’s been depressed and forgotten for a long time. You have a pocket that wants you there, one that doesn’t, and one that doesn’t know what’s going on. We were just trying to help folks.
I was reluctant to go to my first Healthier Lake Worth Beach meeting. We’re short staffed as it is. Honestly, it wasn’t such a great meeting and I left pretty skeptical. I was encouraged to come back and at the next meeting I was made to feel a part of it. They asked me what my thoughts were and got me to engage.
It was a match because we were able to work together and try to meet a common goal. Arms of Hope is feeding the community and taking care of one part of their needs, but we know for them to come to us looking for help, there has got to be some underlying issues. Food is on the surface. How do we get them to trust us, tell us their stories and get to the core issues that will really make an impact in their lives? That’s what Healthier Lake Worth Beach stood for—they wanted to understand mental health for what people are going through in the community to create change.
What we’ve done in the last one-and-a-half years is tremendous. With the people that come to get their food, it was easy for us to involve them in cleaning up the community. They had a central, comfortable place where they were meeting. We took it one step further to walk around the community and clean it up together. The community sees who is doing the cleanups. And those doing the cleanups can celebrate their achievements. It’s reassuring. They can say, ‘I’m a part of that. We did that.’ They feel like they’re a part of the community.
The streets are so much cleaner now. Before, when you would walk around the community you would see Haitians, Spanish-speaking folks, and other members of the community gathering by their own groups. It’s not groups anymore. Everyone is interacting with each other. Kids of all different backgrounds are playing together. Men are playing with kids from all different backgrounds. You can see how everyone is starting to feel comfortable with one another.
I thought I was going to give up a lot of my time to be a part of Healthier Lake Worth Beach. I did, but in return, the support I received helped me to grow and reach more people. That’s the common goal.
And it all starts and revolves around a meal.”