By Mike Kinney
“The pandemic has taken its toll.”
That’s the conclusion of UNICEF’s new flagship report on children’s mental health and several other studies. The studies also suggest problems of teen suicide and anxiety in children were on the rise even before the pandemic.
Local community advocate Antwon Cloird of the RichMinds Network, a community-based group addressing mental health, trauma and community response issues in Richmond, says his organization has seen the problem first hand.
“Now we are seeing definite signs of it in the classroom,” Cloird said.
And so on Wednesday, the RichMinds joined a comprehensive coalition of local organizations in putting on a “Self Care Day” for students and parents at Nystrom Elementary School at 230 Harbour Way, providing both lunch and resources to about 250 to 300 parents and students.
The event featured the WCCUSD Rollin’ Cafe Food Truck serving its new organic burgers, along with the raffling off of four bicycles donated by the Richmond Fire Department and the donation of 20 gift cards from Target from the Southside Economic Empowerment Development LLC (SEED).
The event also featured a vast collaboration of agencies and organizations providing information and resources to families in need. See the long list of participants at the end of this story.
Rev. Andre Shumake, a School Community Outreach Worker at Nystrom who helped organize the event, said “Self Care Day” offered resources for families to cope at “the mental, social and economic levels.”
“It is also important for families to understand the importance of daily attendance here at the school to help enable their children to achieve higher academic levels,” Rev. Shumake said.
Having the County’s mobile vaccination unit offered an opportunity for eligible individuals from Nystrom families to get vaccinated, particularly with a vaccination mandate coming to students and staff at district schools. Having families together enabled parents to sign minor waiver forms for chidren ages 12 and over.
“It is all part of an effort to help keep our students, parents and staff safe in the midst of the pandemic,” Rev. Shumake said.
Gilberto Hernandez, a youth counselor with La Familia, also attended to provide outreach to Spanish-speaking families. La Familia provides substance use treatment services for youth between the ages of 12 to 21.
“It is important to let them know there is help with people who may have issues with alcoholism or substance abuse,” Hernandez said. “Many times, they are under-represented in access to resources and help. Many feel that the issues surrounding their immigration status will prevent them from access and resources.”
Marena Brown, Community Engagement & Fund Development Manager for the Contra Costa Youth Service Bureau in Richmond, said Self Care Day aimed to lift students’ spirits, reducing depression and providing a safe, comforting space.
“It helps to create stronger families,” Brown said.
The Self Care Day has also helped to create community, according to Cloird, who aims to hold similar events at additional district schools.
“We will get more done with all of these participants as a coalition as opposed for them competing for resources & funding in our community,” Cloird said.
The coalition that participated in Self Care Day at Nystrom included the Contra Costa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health; Contra Costa Mobile Vaccination Team; Contra Costa Alcohol & Other Drugs Services; Contra Costa Child Development; WCCUSD Family & Community Engagement Department; Mental Health Evaluation Team; Richmond Police and Fire departments; WCCUSD Adult Education; Contra Costa Behavioral Health Services, Rubicon, RichMinds Network, La Familia, NAACP-Richmond Branch, Santa Fe Neighborhood Council, Lincoln Families, Lifelong Medical, Being Well, CSB Headstart, WCCUSD Nutrition Center, HOPE Solutions, Community Villages, Youth Services Bureau and the Office of County Supervisor John Gioia.