This award does not belong to me, but rather belongs to everyone who has  believed in, and been a part of Youth Health Connection for 21 years.  When Rose DiPietro approached me about Luminaria, my immediate response was to say no, as being singled out is the antithesis of what YHC is all about.  YHC truly reflects the power of connection, collaboration and communities coming together building coalitions.   As Rose pushed back, I laughed and said that I did not think there would be room at the event to have the thousands who have been a part of the mission all stand up together.  For that is what this award really represents.

We all have a personal story.  My personal story about entering the field of psychology really dates back to the tragic loss of my high school boyfriend to suicide when we were in our early 20’s.  There just are events that happen that project us forward in our lives.  His death was one of those events for me.  Then, years later as I was doing consult liaison work at the hospital, in April 1994, I did 4 consults in one week for teens, the last two of which were 12 year old girls who had made serious suicide attempts requiring medical care prior to psychiatric care.  I was so personally and professionally shaken that I approached the hospital administration with my concerns about the crisis I was seeing in mental health.  After some very candid discussions, the hospital gave the go ahead to pursue the development of a community based prevention program for teens, families, and schools, originally named The Adolescent Suicide Prevention Project.  This was done fully 5 years before Surgeon General David Satcher initiated a call for action for Suicide Prevention as  a Public Health issue.    So, to the Hospital, Richard Aubet, thank you for your unyielding support and belief.  It shows heart and soul and comes from the top of the leadership out to the communities we serve.  To Jack Spurr, thank you for your philanthropy.  Your quiet, steady, understated approach to bringing funds in has given us the ability to make a difference.

To underscore why all this matters:  The data tells us that greater than 26 % of the general population struggle with a  mental disorder representing more than 57 million people.  Half of all lifetime cases begin by age 14, Mental Health issues are a chronic disease of the young with strong correlations between physical and mental health problems, suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens.  The numbers tell why this work is so critical to do.

It is very important to recognize how vanguard a decision this was, and continues to be.  South Shore Hospital recognized then, and has for all these years, that it is imperative that mental health needs be addressed positively and with open dialog.    YHC is not a revenue producing program which even more underscores the unwavering commitment the hospital has made.  They have given me the privilege to develop and grow a unique program, one that brings people together, working on a shared mission to reduce risk and increase resilience through connection and collaboration.   At the core, we are striving to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and insure that our programs are embedded in the community, are evidence based and sustainable.   We have been recognized by the state for a Suicide Prevention Leadership Award.  Our peer leader training, “How Not To Keep A Secret” is listed in the National Best Practice Registry, and South Shore FACTS: Families, Adolescents, Communities Together against Substances is now entering our 5th year.  These represent just a couple of our milestone achievements, which most importantly show how we are working to literally save lives.

We have created a true collaborative initiative across the South Shore.  Nothing like YHC exists elsewhere.  There have been so many people who have “come to the table”.  I feel so honored to experience the rewards of collaboration with all the schools and school based professionals, parents, youth, both the Plymouth and Norfolk County DA’s, The Social Service League, William James College, Boston Children’s Hospital, The Parent Connection, Adolescent Wellness, SADD, Caron Treatment Centers, McLean Hospital, Walden Behavioral Care, Riverside Trauma Center, and most recently,  the Josh Anderson Foundation.  There are many more I could list and truly do not want to exclude anyone, but in the interest of time I will stop there.

Kim Noble and Karin Farrell work tirelessly to ‘get it done”.  Without them YHC simply would not be.  They make sure everything flows seamlessly, doing more and more in less time than ever seems possible.  Gratefully they manage all the publications, the newsletter, the Prom Guide, HeadSmart, all the communications, all the meetings, all the trainings, the data base, Hidden in Plain Sight, etc, etc. etc.   I think you get the point.   Thank you Kim and Karin for everything you do, for who you are and for your patience when I say, “How about  we do this?”

Rose, you have mentored me and have taught me so much.  I appreciate that you always make time to listen and guide.  Jann Ahern, you lead with quiet steadiness allowing us to continue exploring how we can be agile and responsive to community needs.

To my colleagues at the Center for Integrative Counseling and Wellness.  Together we have created a cutting edge integrated approach to the treatment of mental health issues.  All of you arrive daily with a smile and always work at the top of your game.  It has always been a gift for me to be able to combine my clinical work with prevention work.  Sharing both with all of you is a true professional highlight for me.  What joy we share as we work to help people live better lives.  You light up my life and all those who you help!

To my friends, thank you for always being there, with laughter and joy showing me how connection really does make life better.

And my family.  My sister is here tonight and is always by my side supporting me as only a big sister can.   She listens tirelessly to me and has an uncanny ability to ask incisive questions.  My parents gave me the gift of my education and the support to pursue my dream.  My mother was perhaps my first role model as she lived her life with empathy, compassion and connection.  Mom, I hope you are up there smiling down enjoying this.

I start each day with gratitude and end by counting my blessings.  I could never have imagined being here.  I am humbled and honored for the privilege to share my dream of a world that embraces mental health as an integrated part of wellness. And healthy living.  There is much more work to do but we are making enormous progress.  I am hoping we can continue to work together, in connection and collaboration, moving forward.

Thank you so much.