Forum to focus on mental health

United Way’s study of community needs will be discussed at Friday’s forum

By Josette Keelor

A forum in Winchester on Friday will unite community and national organizations in an attempt to lessen the stigma of mental health.

The Community Impact Forum at Shenandoah University will relate results of the most recent Community Needs Update, which is published every three years by the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley in partnership with Lord Fairfax Community College.

The report looks at the local United Way’s assessments of demographic and social trends used to decide the use of contributed funds for community services.

The report also provides progress on the areas of education, income and health, said local United Way president Joe Shtulman.

“What we do is we serve as a link from people in need and the resources to meet those needs,” Shtulman said. “We convene groups, facilitate response to needs [and] we raise resources.”

Friday’s forum will feature keynote speaker Wayne Drash, staff writer and senior producer for CNN.com and winner of a Peabody award, a Webby and an Emmy for breaking news and feature writing. Drash, named second-best online writer in America by the National Headliner Awards in 2012, is also a candidate for the Rosalynn Carter Journalism Fellowship for Mental Health.

Drash was one of many individuals who heard about the forum and decided to help.

Author Diana Ketterman, community representative for the local United Way and co-author of the Community Needs Update, will speak on what the United Way has done so far to further educate the community on mental health awareness.

Ketterman said she met Drash after CNN contacted her for an interview about her book, “A Child of Royalty,” which she wrote about her experience growing up with a mother suffering from untreated schizophrenia.

Growing up, she had difficulty explaining what was wrong with her mother, so it took her many years to get help for her mom and herself.

As outsiders, she explained, “We don’t want to get involved. We don’t know what to do.”

“I didn’t have anyone to answer my plea for help until I was 20 years old,” she said. Then she was 30 before her mother received the “right kind of help.”

Since her January interview with CNN.com, she and Drash have kept in touch about plans for the Community Impact Forum. After he agreed to speak at the event, Creating Community Solutions asked to help by providing a representative to talk with area students.

Susan McCormack, of the Arizona-based national organization, plans to meet with members of the DECA club at Sherando High School in Stephens City this week to spearhead a community discussion on mental health issues through the organization’s program, Text, Talk, Act to Improve Mental Health.

Students will discuss mental health issues affecting Americans by answering questions and text messaging their responses to other Text, Talk, Act groups around the country and comparing answers.

DECA, previously called Distributive Education Clubs of America, prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs from around the world in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges.

Creating Community Solutions started on Jan. 16, 2013 after President Barack Obama called for a “national conversation to increase understanding about mental health,” according to the website, creatingcommunitysolutions.org.

The organization partners with the National Institute for Civil Discourse, housed at The University of Arizona’s College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush serve as honorary chairs.

The United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley has offered a forum each year since 2003 in an effort to affect community change, Shtulman explained. Forums help the group identify special projects of focus.

The Community Impact Forum will meet at Shenandoah University in the Stimpson Auditorium in the Byrd Business School from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Friday. Admission is $10 and includes food and reading materials. Register by calling 540-536-1610 or by emailing uway@visuallink.com.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>