Mental health has received much more public attention in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The stress of a pandemic has had a tremendous impact on mental health, and our ability to constantly access information and breaking news has increased our collective sense of anxiety. While these issues were not new, the pandemic brought them to light in a new way and has opened the door to respond in new ways.
Since late 2020, Treetops has been meeting regularly with other organizations and agencies in Kent County to discuss the particular barriers New Americans face in accessing mental health resources that are in high demand. There has been advocacy to insurance companies, training for healthcare providers, and identification of professionals eager to work with New Americans.
All of this work had been done to increase access to individual therapy services, a very specific type of mental health response. However, many members of our community are not interested in individual therapy, often due to cultural differences and social stigma. In the fall of 2021, Kent County was preparing to welcome hundreds of families from Afghanistan and there was a collective recognition that mental health services would be essential for these new neighbors.
With the help of two generous therapists, many transportation and childcare volunteers, interpreters, and the whole Treetops team, we embarked on an alternative solution through a program called Circles of Support.
Circles of Support was a 6-week program that turned into 24 weeks of beautiful community, connection, and healing for a group of Afghan New Americans. From November through May, we met and shared experiences, processed emotions, and learned better coping skills to manage stress. Over the course of this program, 73 adults participated in groups while children attended school or on-site childcare.
A common thread throughout this experience was the ripple effect of our conversations that went well beyond the confines of our circle. Mothers who were better able to calm themselves during times of stress could be an example for their children to do the same. Others were able to invite more from their language community to join us, and our circle opened to include more of those who needed support.
We all deal with stress in life. That’s a given. However, we often deal with our stress in isolation, forgetting that as human beings we rely on community and support to cope and work through our pain. And during times of acute stress, like during a relocation, war, or separation from family, like this group has experienced, our need for connection with those who understand our experience is essential to healing.
At Treetops, we are honored to provide this space for others to connect over a cup of tea and hopefully make their transition to a new life a little brighter. Circles of Support is continuing right now in Swahili- and Kinyarwanda-speaking communities. Our ultimate vision is to have a circle taking place in every language represented in Kent County.
Innovation at Treetops Collective is primarily made possible by the 100+ monthly donors who sustain our work. Recurring gifts are the strong foundation that keep our work going month to month so that we are able to co-create solutions when opportunities arise. Now is a perfect time to join our work as a monthly donor! Gifts of all sizes make this work happen.