Hope Happens Here

Iliana Soto Welty: Drawing Out Stigma

Episode Summary

Having worked with ethnic communities for nearly 20 years, Iliana Soto Welty is keenly aware of the stigma and barriers that each ethnic community in Orange County faces as it relates to mental health. She discusses these struggles, as well as a unique way that she and MECCA are working with these communities to create healing.

Episode Transcription

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Hello, and welcome to the Hope Happens Here podcast. This is Kate Gosney Hoffman. So glad you're here. Today we were joined by Iliana Soto Welty. She is The Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies, otherwise known as MECCA. Iliana was such an inspiring guests. She was talking with us about all the work she's been doing for the last 20 years in supporting and improving the lives and health of multi-cultural communities and empowering their voices and supporting them in their mental health needs. And really just breaking down the barriers that prevent them from reaching out and obtaining the services that they might need for support for their mental and emotional wellbeing. 

                                    There's so much stigma out there with mental health and in each individual ethnic community has its own set of barriers. And it was really fascinating to talk with Iliana about her experience with that and what she and the work of MECCA has done to break down those barriers. And one of which is a project that she started that sounded like so much of her passion project called Drawing Out Stigma. The Drawing Out Stigma program has used the arts as a way of destigmatizing mental health and mental illness and encouraging mental health through creative processes in the communities. And there's been a lot of ways they've done that, but the one that she talked about the most was the writing project that they've been doing this year.

                                    And it was just so powerful to hear about just the work and the success that has come out of this project. She even read three different samples of writing from the project, and we got a little emotional with it. It was just very powerful. So really happy to talk with Iliana about destigmatizing mental illness in the communities, and especially in the ethnic communities. I couldn't think of a better time to talk about this topic with everything going on with COVID and a lot of isolation going on in the world and in our communities, and just a wonderful reminder of the power of connection and using your own voice and your own creative process. So we're so happy to have you here, Iliana, thank you so much for joining us.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Thank you for having me. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Absolutely. And I wanted to just sort of ask you to tell us a little bit about MECCA, what your role is with them and what the organization really does within the community? I'm so curious to hear from you about that.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Sure. I'm the executive director of MECCA, which is Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies. And we are a collective impact coalition working to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities and improve the quality of life for underserved multi-ethnic communities. We serve the threshold languages in Orange County, which include Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Chinese. And we also work with the LGBT community and the Khmer speaking population, which is the Cambodian community. And we've been around for over 10 years. And most of the work that we do is around mental health. One of the key components of our work is just doing outreach and education to reduce the stigma, to increase access and equity and the quality of services in Orange County in around mental health. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Wow, you really cover so many bases in the needs of our community. I'm really struck by that. You know, there's a consideration for so many groups that may experience those disparities.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Thank you. There's just a tremendous need, especially now during the pandemic, and where all of our agencies have been around for many, many years and they have long-term trusting relationships with the community. So we really work with them to offer direct services to the community. But there are trusted partners in all of this.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Which that's just such an important concept, right? The partnership piece. I mean, that's what we should all be working towards, right? Working with each other, all the different agencies hand in hand supporting one another instead of working in different silos. Right?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yes.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       And it's such a need. I mean, what an important mission you all have. Because as a therapist myself, I have definitely seen firsthand the disparities within the different multicultural groups and all different kinds of stigmas that are unique to different cultures and backgrounds. And I mean, it's a really big job to be able to normalize receiving help and providing resources that align and are comfortable and respectful to the different types of populations that are out there.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yes. You know, typically in Orange County and across the state ethnic communities are under utilizing mental health services and it's due to the stigma. And so, that's been a really big focus of ours. We do have programming, but one of the program that we've done for over 10 years now is our Drawing Out Stigma program, where we use the arts to create awareness about mental health and that's really worked. 

                                    I think sometimes we have to find new ways to connect with the community, and we to invest more resources to figuring out ways that we can develop community driven and community defined strategies that are able to really address the needs of the community. And it's always not just a traditional therapy that works for individuals, sometimes we need to be able to connect with them through, in a community setting and in ways that they feel comfortable. So that's what our program does, is using visual expressive arts and other arts to connect with folks.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       That I can imagine is so powerful, and what a brilliant idea to just come around from a different angle and find other ways of connecting. And I want to hear so much more about the Drawing Out Stigma Program. And before we jump into that though, I'm curious from you, what you think the biggest barriers are from the ethnic communities in receiving mental health treatment or at least even reaching out, what do you find to be? And I know that's a broad question and it can vary, obviously. But what do you think have been the biggest barriers that you focus on? Or you least you try to?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          You know, there's a lot of barriers, obviously stigma is as a huge barrier. Part of it is also, there's the services out in the community, but I think we need more services. There's a limited amount of services for ethnic communities that are culturally and linguistically responsive to our communities. And so, we need more therapists that reflect to the ethic community that needs the support. I think that would go a long way to creating that trust. Also, the typical places and ways that folks get services don't always have the language capabilities to serve all of the threshold languages. 

                                    So if you call some of the hotline visually you'll be connected to a language line, or sometimes it's usually offered in English or Spanish. So those aren't typical avenues that our communities we'll reach out to. You know, now it's a really challenging time because ethnic communities are more likely to reach out to a religious leader than a therapist. And right now we're not currently in church. So the resources are just more limited. But there are organizations in Orange County and there are hotlines available. They're just much more limited.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Right. So I mean, there's definitely disparities. I mean, Orange County is saturated with therapists, but not enough that can provide the services that you're talking about, which is so unfortunate. I mean, I just know there's just so many therapists in Orange County, but that is a very big missing piece, it sounds like.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yes. One of the programs that we're doing is funded by CalOptima. They did a study and they found that sometimes people don't even know that they have access to resources and therapy services. And so, we're trying to let people know how they can connect with their providers. The program is called The Children's Mental Health Access Collaborative. And so, we're working with other organizations that also serve families to be able to connect them to resources in the community. We also do a lot of work around substance use, which is another topic that people don't usually talk about. So we did a lot of outreach around that topic recently through our Destigmatizing Recovery program. 

                                    And currently we're doing a community based participatory research project in all of our ethnic communities to be able to develop a suicide prevention training that really helped us break those barriers and help us reach out to communities. It's called Strengthening Our Ties. And we reached out to folks through focus groups and interviews, and just connected with them and tried to learn what's the best way to reach out to them. And I think that kind of research is definitely more needed so that we find better ways to figure out ways to lessen the silence around these difficult topics.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       I love that you said lessen the silence, that's a powerful statement for sure. And it's so true. And what I'm really loving hearing about what you are all doing is that, you are being respectful and honoring where they're at and coming to them and connecting to them instead of deciding what would be the best. You're learning from them, like you said, the strengthening our ties and being able to just let them be your teachers and see what works from that perspective. I just think that's such a beautiful example of kind of honoring a person's process and behavioral health, if that sense, you know?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah. And definitely one of our values is we see our community members as our partners and we continuously learn from them. And we also see that those that are just most connected to the challenges are also most connected to the solutions. So our goal is really to lift up their voices and help us figure out better ways to improve systems and improve our programs. And it's a continuous learning process for us.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Absolutely. And I'm sure very empowering for them too, you know, to be hands-on part of their journey and being able to connect with you and partner with you instead of having this sort of, I'm the expert, you're the patient mentality, right? You know, your partners, we're doing this together. And there's so much stigma and shame already built into mental health struggles and then add the cultural influences on that as well. And it's definitely a hard wall to break through and I think that you guys just are doing such a beautiful job of meeting them where they are at and just respecting each other as everybody as human beings and honoring that. So I'm so glad that you are all doing what you're doing, that's for sure.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Thank you. Last year we did a film, a 20-minute film called My Story My Journey. It can be found on YouTube. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Okay. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          And I think it really highlights the community's voices, it's a community participatory film where we filmed them talking about mental health and stigma and that's sort of reflective of how we want to lift up the community's voice in all of this.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       And so, it's a film of, is it like a documentary or is it?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Okay.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah. Yeah, I guess it could be a documentary process. It's multi-generational multiethnic approach. And we worked with them to deliver our Drawing Out Sigma program, but we had lots of conversations about mental health and they really talked about what a stigma looked like in their communities. So it's really insightful. And even middle school kids and older adults talking about mental health and what that looks like and the fears and the struggles. And we did our best to try to capture sort of the essence in each of the communities around mental health.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       I cannot wait to watch that. I think that sounds so beautiful and also so necessary to see. And the first thing that comes into my mind is, something like that should be watched in a master's programs for therapists when we're learning about the racial differences in mental health and what that looks like, the cultural differences and just kind of learning about diversity. That would be such an amazing thing to watch, just this grassroots effort and seeing this from their mouths, do you know?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yes. I was really impressed with how open people were to talk about it and to share their perspective. S yeah, it definitely would be very useful.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Do you think that the reaction is, finally somebody is asking me what I think about it, or why are they surprised? I mean, what has been the general reaction to the reach out that you have been doing?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I think that people really appreciate having, it's difficult to have these conversations, but they really appreciate having these conversations about mental health and also substance use and suicide. I think we don't talk about it enough, that we need to be able to break that silence and normalize these conversations in order to break down the stigma. One of the most powerful things we can do also is share our story. And so, create a safe space for people to open up and be able to talk about their experiences. 

                                    And that connection has been, I think, really, really valuable. And it's not your typical way of addressing mental health, but we have found from our community members, they really appreciate. You know, they're not going to go to one-to-one therapy. Most of them will tell us initially, because there's still that stigma there. But they love connecting with other community members and talking about these topics. They feel heard, they get connection to resources and they get education. And so-

Kate Gosney Hof...:       And that's-

Iliana Soto Wel...:          ... that's really what is key to the work that we do.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yeah. Exactly. And that's exactly what I was just thinking as you were telling me that that's therapy happening, right? When they're talking and they're sharing with you. I mean, that's therapy. And therapy doesn't have to be just sitting in a concrete room talking to one person. It can be taking a walk in nature. It's just really about connecting, excuse me, connecting with another human being and having vulnerability in that communication.

                                    And it's an energetic and it's a beautiful thing that happens when we finally get honest and you're able to have somebody bear witness to your process and your journey and feel safe enough to share. And it doesn't matter the context, really, in the end. And so, them just opening up and sharing with you about their experiences. I mean, that is such a beautiful leap into addressing their mental wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, and so.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah, I totally agree. I believe in these alternative sort of practices, it doesn't have to be so formal. I think it's just us really connecting with each other, you know?

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Mm-hmm (affirmative). Relationships are everything. And I mean, I worked in substance abuse for many, many years and it's... I mean, people might challenge me on this and that's okay. Everybody has their own experiences and opinions. But what I saw and what I learned in my own family and my own, with working with my clients and my patients is really that the medicine that kept them sober and kept them going was connections with other human beings. Right? And that was the most powerful thing. And of course there's so much more that needs to happen, so much more. But if I were to just peel away all the layers and she was one thing that's the most important, I'd say connection with people who are safe for you.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I agree with you.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       So on that topic, I recognize that there are so many things we could talk about, so many ways we could go. But you had mentioned something really powerful that you've been involved in, a project, I believe you called it the Drawing Out Stigma program. Did I get that right?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Okay. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I wanted to talk about this program because this year, it was one of the programs that I felt really connected with our community. We've been doing it for over 10 years. But this year was unique. We used writing as a way of one of the arts that we wanted to highlight this year. And I wanted to talk a little bit about how that came about.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Please. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          So is that okay? 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yes. No, I would love it. And yes, absolutely. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Okay. So typically nobody views visual arts, expressive arts and this is one of the first programs that I did when I started at MECCA. And so, it's really close to my heart. But I wanted to really highlight writing because for me writing has always been a healing process. And it's always been sort of my go-to for when I need to sort of release strong emotions. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yeah. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          And I wanted to just share a little bit about my story and how writing helped me through a very difficult time. So I was going to therapy after my daughter was born and I kind of was, it was helpful. But it got to the point where in one of the sessions the therapist said something a little bit disparaging about an issue that I was going through. And I just realized that I wanted to sort of take this process into my own hands. And she said, "I want to help you through this." And I just said, "I don't think you're the right one." And I decided to take the money that I was spending in therapy and put it into a class, a memoir class that I took through UCLA. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Wow.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          And I liked the idea of that it was somewhat anonymous because it was an online class, and this was like many years ago. And I liked the idea of being guided through the process. And it just felt natural to me. And it was through, having sometimes strong emotions has always been my muse to write. And I was able to sort of capture the feelings that I was having at the time and sort of change them and transmute them and turn them into something else, something beautiful. And that's sort of how I use driving as a healing process. I had never submitted anything before in my life, but I ended up submitting my story to Voices of Our Nation, which is a program for writers of color. And so, I got to go away for like a week and spend time with other writers from across the nation. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Oh, wow.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          And they got to workshop my work and that was therapeutic in itself, but I also got to connect with a sub group mothers who write. And there I found other folks that had gone through the same experiences as me with postpartum depression. And I think it's really important for people to share their stories because being a mother, one in five mothers go through postpartum depression, and it's a very lonely experience. And for me, that first year having a child, I felt very, very alone and it was a very dark time.

                                    I have glimpses of memory, but for the most part, it's just a dark cloud. But I was really able to connect with them. And I developed a lot of courage from listening to their stories. And I think that a couple of years ago the state of California passed legislation to make sure that we were addressing the issue of maternal mental health.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yes.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          And I think that, this is just so key because most moms don't talk about how challenging it is. So I think the more we come out and the more we share our story, it's healing for others, but it's also making a change in the community. So I'm just glad that there's been that change overall.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yeah, that is huge. Absolutely. Absolutely. It was just a milestone in the world of mental health, especially in California. And like you said, this is such a common experience for mothers and what keeps us sort of in our depression a lot of the time, amongst other things. But is feeling alone and feeling like something's wrong with us, right? You know, we're not doing it right because nobody's talking about it. And so, like you said, drawing courage from other people's stories. I mean, it gives me chills just thinking about how incredibly powerful that must have been.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          It was. And so, when I think about that, when I wrote this grant I was a little bit afraid because our communities, many of them they don't always write. Or sometimes, it's difficult for them to share their experiences maybe because of the education that they have. So I knew that there was going to be challenges in doing a writing program, but I wanted to do it. Because in the past they had used visual art and it was beautiful. And then they had to write sort of a description of their art. So they had done some writing before, but this was going to be a little bit more than that. 

                                    So I've just been surprised because sometimes I come up with these ideas and my agency go, "Oh no, we can't do that. It's going to be challenging." And then they surprise me and they do an amazing job. So each of the agencies had adults and youth go through these workshops and highlights from those workshops were put together in little chat books. And each of the books was sort of reflective of each of the communities and the stories and the challenges that those ethnic communities are going through. And I have to tell you that I was just so touched by the work and the courage, the people that put together these stories and also our staff who worked with them and the writing instructors. 

                                    And it was a really great process for us to go through. Starting earlier this year, we worked very closely with Kelechi Ubozoh, who is a mental health advocate and Marcus Omari, who is a local poet. And they trained our staff. And we went through a really close connection within ourselves sharing our own stories and doing our own writing workshops, and then they were able to translate that experience over into the community. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Wow, what an amazing project. And I'm so curious about how... I mean, maybe to just kind of get more down to the nitty gritty about it, too. I mean, how did you present it to the participants? I mean, were there certain topics or was it just... I mean, what was it, how did this get presented? Or how is it for you guys?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          One of the first meetings that we had, we had a curriculum that we wanted to give each agency. The opportunity to develop their own prompts. And one of the questions that came up was, you know, "Do you want us to have them write about their deepest, darkest challenge and mental health challenge?" And we said, you know, "This is about really creating your narrative for your community. What are the things that you want to highlight?" And so, many also highlighted experiences of resilience and recovery and history and hope. So it was positive as well. As well as sharing those stories that are difficult.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       And do you think that there were... I mean, what were their responses to this? Did they surprise themselves? I can just imagine, because I know when I've used writing tools for therapeutic processes in the past, it's always a surprise what comes out. Not always, but many times it's a surprise what comes out and it just ends up being way more powerful than one would have imagined. So, I mean, what a powerful thing to witness, I'm just so curious about what their responses have been.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah. I mean, I can share some of... I have three pieces that I'd wanted to share and read, just to give you an idea of some of the work that came out of this. And we have, on our website at ocmecca.org, a collection of those stories that we've highlighted. And they're stories on substance use and stories of recovery and also stories about mental health and stories about hope. And so if people want to read more stories, they're on our website. And then we're also going to be putting together a collective book, highlighting stories from each of the ethics organizations and their chat books that they put together. Yeah.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       What an amazing project, that is just so fantastic. I love it so much. And yes, please, I would love to hear some of the stories. I would absolutely love it and I know our audience would, too. I appreciate very much that you even brought that to the table. So, thank you.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Of course. Well, thank you for letting me read this. I have to tell you, when I got the books I was so impressed and many times it was really hard for me to get through the books without crying. I had to sort of read them in segments. And so, if I cry, I'm sorry.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Don't be sorry. I probably will be crying right with you, so all good. No worries.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          So this story is from a high school student and from one of our agent organizations, he writes dear mom, it's been so hard and I want to blame you for my difficulties but I know I can't. But I want to tell you this. Your never ending unrealistic expectations, of course, started with good intentions, stressed me out so much that I thought the worst. Mentally it's been so mortifying because of the pain I've been feeling. It's even worse when everyone asks me how I'm so good at handling, because frankly, I'm probably the worst at it. I can't even put into words to how I've been feeling recently. You may not know, but crying every day has come to the point where I cry about the littlest things even when I don't want to. 

                                    I've always turned your expectations into my expectations that I put for myself. And these expectations have led me to push myself beyond reason. I always think I have to be perfect or no one will like me, and this mentality is breaking. No, it's ripping me apart. And I don't know how to stop ruining myself. I don't want to turn to substance use despite the fact that everyone around me, they drink and smoke. I don't want to harm myself anymore, but you know, pulling hair is a form of self harm. Sometimes I thought I should just end it, but is it really worth it? I'm ashamed. I'm sure other people have problems much worse than me, but I can't handle my issues like the others. I'm 17 and my mental health has been, and is plummeting. Send help.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Wow. Wow. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I think it's just an insight into sort of what our children are experiencing, and he wrote it in a form of a letter to his mom. And I just wanted to share that because I think that listening to that perspective, hopefully, will impact individuals and let us know that our kids are struggling with this expectation of being perfect. And-

Kate Gosney Hof...:       And also, especially in what's going on right now with COVID and everything, how that has affected our kids. I can imagine that's just, I mean, that's a whole different conversation for us to have.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       But you know, the kids are for sure struggling with this in lots of ways. And so, the timing of this kind of... I mean, I just can't think of anything just so powerful for them to have this resource, this tool in the midst of everything going on right now. But I'm very, very struck by that letter and how he was basically saying, "Yeah. Things aren't what they seem. Help me"

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah. We had mental health staff at each of these workshops, so they were supported. But it just kind of lets you know that this is maybe not something that this individual would have shared. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Right. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          But through writing, it was able to help that person and to get the support that they needed. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yes, definitely. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I wanted to share a little poem by a middle school student. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Great. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          And I just loved it when I read it and I think it sort of speaks to how it's okay to ask for help. And it's okay to feel all of these emotions that we're feeling, we're only human. But here it goes. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Okay. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          It's okay to be hurt. Someday, you'll get back up again. It's okay to be sad, someday the happiness will find you. It's okay to be stressed. I know you'll get through it. It's okay to feel pain. It's just another part of life. It's okay. And this one was written by Malia T. [Mylanta 00:36:33].

Kate Gosney Hof...:       It gives me chills. Did she read this out? Did they read this out loud in the group? Is that what happens?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah. Some of the work is anonymous, but she was okay with putting her name next to her work. And it's a cute little small poem. Some of the work that came out of this as long, some of that was short. Our Farsi speaking community, they have a long history of using poetry as a way of expressing themselves and healing, and their book was really long and beautiful. And very, just expressive and poetic. So each book kind of looks differently depending on the community. I wanted to read one last piece. And this was a introduction to one of the books, and I'll read a piece of it. There were two staff members. They were partners.

                                    One of them passed away earlier this year, so they both worked on this project together. And he writes to his partner, dedicating the book. Gabriel [inaudible 00:38:05], who had worked at Avatar passed away earlier this summer. And his partner Jose [Sehab 00:38:15] wrote this piece to him in regards to this project that they worked on together. So remember Gabriel, how much we love the art of storytelling, whether through our TV shows at home, movies we watched together, books you've read, I'm not much of a reader, and evenings at the theater. We always loved a great story and learned so much through them. We started planning these workshops and lesson plans together. Now I'm reading through all these stories and trying to create a cohesive narrative with a nice beginning, middle and end. I realized I didn't have to try.

                                    These stories wrote themselves. Gabriel, to you and to me, these are not just stories. These are the voices of our community. And if there's something to know about you, Gabriel, is how much you really cared for our community. This sense of duty came from your heart. Much like life, at least biologically, these accounts begin in order with our youth revealing who they are in this moment in their lives, their fears and where they're going. But because life happens in a way that's not always in chronological order. As we thought, the second half of these stories come from our adult workshop participants. Our adults also reveal who they are, at least in this moment in time, their fears and where they're going. 

                                    I remember as we were reviewing our prompts for the participants to write their entries, one of the prompts that I suggested to you, Gabriel, was to personify and write a letter to your biggest fear. Letting them know how they've impacted your life. Could you make peace with them? Well, Gabriel, here I am writing to you and directing these words to heaven. My biggest fear, of course, losing you. Reading and leaving these stories together. And I use the word leaving intentionally, because I realized through this process that we all are young and young at heart, no matter the backgrounds or beliefs, share a lot of the same and have more in common than not. To you reading this, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone, you are not alone with your thoughts about what you see when you look in the mirror. 

                                    You are not alone in fear of loss or fear for loss of a loved one or maybe fear of rivers or the coronavirus. And maybe just like me, you're about to embark on a journey of making peace with your biggest fear though I fear I might fail miserably. Gabriel, I was so moved to tears when I reached the end of my leaving of these words together, because I realized that these words all tied very well together in the end. That's the signature of a great story. At least in my mind. The very last word in this collection rings so true in my heart and my current reality, happy or heartbroken life keeps on and we must journey on. To you Gabriel, let's say [inaudible 00:41:42].

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Well, I have tears.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I know, that was hard for me to read in fact.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       I'm curious what was it like for you to read that?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I think it just expresses how closely our staff connected to this process and they in turn really connected with the community and the participants. And I know that writing this, for Jose it was healing to him because of his loss, but having them run these workshops together and having people open up, I think it was very transformational. And so, I just wanted to read that piece because I think it captures so much of what this process was about and how much of their heart they put into this. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yes.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          And one of the last lines in that book, it says, this book protects lots of things I carry in my heart. And that quote, I think, bodies the stories that were in all of the books. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Yeah. Definitely. And in hearing those powerful words, I was thinking, especially at the end when he was talking about, you are not alone. I mean, that's what I hope the message from this conversation that we're having right now. I mean, it seems to me that that's a good message for our listeners. You know, that you are not alone. You are not alone in your journeys, whatever that looks like for you, you are not alone. And I mean, just such a beautiful demonstration of honesty and vulnerability and normalization of the struggles that so many go through, we all go through. So I really appreciate you sharing that. And I mean, it just doesn't get more powerful than that. 

                                    That connection in the writing, and you're so right that the power of words and the honesty that comes from that is just so healing and beautiful. And like you said earlier about your journey, developing courage from hearing other people's stories. I'm so glad that you have piloted this project and that this is a resource for communities. And like I said earlier, but especially in the time that we're in right now where things are just so unprecedented and different and everything feels like in transition, and it's so easy for us to feel isolated and alone. And if it's already something that one might do out of shame or embarrassment for the struggles that they're having, it's especially hard right now. And so, all the work that you and your team are doing is just so needed and I am incredibly grateful to learn about it today. So thank you.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Yeah. Yu know, I shared my story. Actually, this is the first time I've shared my story. And one Dr. Patrick Corrigan, who is a big proponent and researcher and leader in reducing stigma as that, you know, "One of the most effective ways of combating stigma is for ordinary people to come out about their mental health journey." And so, I encourage people to share their stories. And so, that they can connect with others and realize we're not alone in this. We're all going through this pandemic together. And I think it's really important that we start changing the narrative about mental health. That it's not a negative process, it's a human process. And there's a tremendous power in sharing our story.

                                    We, the way that we are going to create wellness in our community, involves all of us being vulnerable like that and really connecting with each other. I think collectively we need to heal as a community. And one way is by opening up. And I just want to thank the Orange County Health Care Agency for funding this program and really believing in some of our strategies. And they're definitely research-based, but there's a lot more that we need to explore. And finding a new ways of connecting with community members that really helps them improve their mental health and wellness.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Absolutely, well said. And also with this writing project, this is something that anybody can just do at home, right? They can just pick up a pen and a journal or just a pad or paper, and it doesn't have to be dear diary. It can be just writing your experience and just letting it flow. And if you don't feel comfortable talking to somebody, right, that's an easy tool that you have at your disposal just to write and see where that takes you. It's a good first step, if anything. 

                                    So Iliana, you're just so wonderful and I'm just so grateful for all the work you do. And thank you for also sharing your story and how close this is to your heart and for all the help that you're offering our communities in so many different ways. And so, I wanted to give you just a second, if there's anything that you would like to just mention in terms of resources for our listeners. If there's any places you'd like to direct them to get more information, anything else you'd like to mention in that regard?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          You know, there's lots of resources in the community. Our website at ocmecca.org. The county has a lot of resources, the Stigma Free OC, Promise To Talk, Be Well OC. So there's a lot of places to get support. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Awesome. 

Iliana Soto Wel...:          I don't know any specific one that I can [crosstalk 00:48:37] people too, but.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       No, that's great. That's great. No. Well, and how would one get involved in this project, in the Drawing Out Stigma program, how would one get involved in that?

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Right now we're finishing up this cycle, but we're hoping that we can get creative and have similar programming again next year. Our last workshop is actually taking place in December and we've been highlighting writers and having them talk about their journey and their story. And so, our culminating all workshop will involve three prominent writers talking about, how do we take everything that we've experienced in 2020 and really create a new narrative for ourselves? And 2021, we're starting a new year, a new decade. And this is all part of a movement to just become better collectively. So I'm excited to explore that with them, to talk about COVID, Black Lives Matter, and just then to hearts overall.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       It's a very powerful time, that's for sure. And you guys are doing very, very important work and I can't wait to hear more about this in the future, so let's stay connected.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Okay. 

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Thank you.

Iliana Soto Wel...:          Take care. Bye-bye.

Kate Gosney Hof...:       Bye.