A new virtual counseling program called YPSI: In This Together is helping Ypsilanti-area residents address mental health needs through Facebook Live events, small virtual group sessions, scholarships for individual therapy, and self-care kits.
Launched this June, YPSI: In This Together is a project of the Community Family Life Center (CFLC), an Ypsilanti Township nonprofit founded by Pastor Willie Powell and Geraldine Powell of Grace Fellowship Church House of Solutions. The program is funded by a United Way of Washtenaw County COVID-19 Community Relief Fund grant, and Collaborative ChangeMakers counseling is the program's service provider.
Mishelle Rodriguez, Collaborative ChangeMakers founder, says the program's name came out of a discussion with her team about how important it is to "help people to feel less alone as they're trying to get through all of the uncertainty and difficulties" related to the "double pandemic" of COVID-19 and police brutality against communities of color.
The program was originally conceived as being virtual small group counseling through Google Meets, capped at about 10 people. Rodriguez says that while those sessions were beneficial, fewer people participated than expected, averaging two or three participants per session.
The team is now doing an assessment of what has and hasn't worked. They're planning to attend a neighborhood watch Zoom meeting and garner feedback through a community focus group to help decide how to shape the program going forward.
Since the program kicked off, Rodriguez and her team have also launched a series of Facebook Live events on topics including handling grief due to COVID-19 losses and dealing with feelings on police brutality and the resulting protests.
"It seems like people like being able to tune in at their convenience and get information from mental health professionals with expertise. It's important for them to see clinicians of color, people who look like them who are talking about the things they're dealing with," Rodriguez says.
One of the early ideas that had to be addressed were "myths that come out of Christian churches a lot," Rodriguez says.
"They think it's either faith or mental health. We talked about maximizing spirituality and mental health," she says.
The group has also started passing out self-care kits during the CFLC's sports kits giveaway events, a project sponsored through the Aspen Institute's Project Play program.
Rodriguez says that while providing information is great, self-care activities like getting a babysitter and going out for dinner can do more to meet immediate mental health needs than receiving a list of "10 things you can do for your mental health."
Those who receive a kit can ask for one of two books, both by Black mental health professionals. One is the "The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health," and the other, "Emotion Devotional," is from a Christian counseling perspective. The kits also contain vegan body products like bath bombs and moisturizing creams from a Black-owned company called Butters Hygienic, a journal, herbal tea, a candle, and other mental health materials.
"The idea is to take a moment to relax and unwind and to feel cared about," Rodriguez says. "They can read the book on their own time and learn more about how to take care of their mental health."
Ypsi-area residents interested in the program's self-care kits and Facebook Live events, or those interested in giving feedback about the future of the program, are encouraged to follow the YPSI: In This Together Facebook page.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of YPSI: In This Together.