October 10th is International Mental Health Day. The emotional health of individuals and community are just as important as physical health. Understanding the scarcity of existing resources, especially of culturally competent mental health services, Enlace Chicago offers a variety of services through its distinct programs and departments.
The School- Based Counselors and Street-Based Counselors in Enlace’s Violence Prevention Department deliver one-to-one services to the community young people. While the Department of Community Health focuses on emotional support for adult women.
According to Alicia Martinez, Manager of the Violence Prevention Department, Enlace provides services to students between 4th to 12th grade inside four schools in the community: Community Links High School, Farragut Career Academy, Francisco I. Madero Middle School and Eli Whitney Elementary School. “We work with students who need immediate attention. We do an initial evaluation, and if we consider it to be a severe crisis, we refer to services even more specialized,” shares Alicia
The students who come to School- Based Counselors generally have been referred through the behavioral health team at each school. Additionally, Enlace’s team works directly with teachers and administrators, keeping them informed about the different services available through Enlace.
Part of the individual counseling sessions also include home visits, referrals to relatives and opportunities for social interaction. “Once we receive a referral, we can immediately meet with the student. Legally, we are able to have up to five (5) sessions before asking for written parental permission. Our team’s practice is to obtain parents or guardians’ permission as soon as possible, in order to extend the number of possible sessions. In this way, we also establish a connection with the student’s family, which can contribute positively to the student’s life,” explains Alicia. The participants generally remain on the active caseload from between six (6) months to a year, with individual sessions of 45 minutes to an hour, once a week
With the goal of incentivizing the participation of youth in mental health issues, the School-Based Counseling team organizes a group facilitated by young people themselves during the summer months. The agenda and themes discussed are prepared by co-facilitators, who are graduates of groups from previous years. These groups meet for eight (8) weeks, once a week for three (3) hours, in addition to recreational events that they plan and attend.
The team also offers a group called Great Families co-facilitated by two counselors. This group is formed by families of students who have been referred or who reached out directly to Enlace Chicago. They meet for twelve (12) weeks during the school year with a final goal of forming cohesive families with the tools and knowledge to be able to support each other. This year, the group will take place at Farragut Career Academy during the Spring Semester.
Right now, Enlace has two full-time Street-Based Counselors who deliver individual clinical services to youth between the ages of 13-24 years old who have been in contact with the justice system. The counselors work directly with them to provide support to stimulate personal and professional growth, helping to identify challenges and find the resources for them to reengage in school or employment. The counselors work alongside the Enlace and New Life Street Outreach teams to coordinate services, accompany them to court dates, and build relations with parole officers and court personnel. Each counselor works with around fifteen (15) young people for a period of three (3) months up to a year.
Alicia comments, “within our Department of Violence Prevention, we collaborate tightly, but we also work closely with other departments, such as Community Health, especially its Promotoras de Salud, who refer us families that are going through difficult times, and at the same time, we refer mothers of students to them who would benefit from their women's support groups."
Two years ago, the Department of Community Health at Enlace Chicago, through its Promotoras de Salud, offered its first five support groups for women. The groups, now known as GEMAS –Grupos de Empoderamiento para Mujeres con Apoyo y Superación— restarted this October at five different locations in the community: New Life Church, Francisco I. Madero MiddleSchool/Cyrus McCormick Elementary School, Farragut Career Academy, Little Village Lawndale High School (LVLHS) and Toman Branch Library. “As Promotoras de Salud, we try to make a conscious effort to find women in our community who need emotional support,” explains Sahida Martinez, Community Health Worker and group coordinator.
After 2 years, Enlace has continued to offer these groups due to the positive impact they have had on the participants. “Participants reported a reduction in their symptoms of anxiety,” comments Sahida. Erikson Institute has been a crucial ally for continuing this initiative within the community, offering training to each group facilitator for the entire duration of the support group. “We meet once a month with Erickson Institute for around 2 hours to gain technical knowledge in order to better help the participants,” Sahida says. "They have instrumental in our ability to continue to offer these services to our community and we have learned a lot as a group and individually thanks to their trainings."
For more information about the services and groups, please contact Enlace at 773.542.9233.