By sharing our experiences and the lessons we have learned, we hope to start a chain reaction of conversations to help parents and other caregivers be more prepared and proactive in their approach to the mental health and mental fitness of our youth.
Starting the Conversation began as a grassroots initiative launched by a small group of individuals who are parents, caregivers, and family members of children and adults who are living with, or have experienced, a mental illness, mental health condition, or trauma. In 2015, we began our own conversation about how we could bring awareness and focus to mental health and fitness at the earliest stages of children's lives, even before any symptoms might appear. In 2016, we held our first event. Since then, interest in, and acclaim for, our program has continued to grow. In 2019, we became a Missouri nonprofit with section 501(c)(3) status.
In October 2021, Starting the Conversation will merge with the Gateway Region YMCA, which will carry our mission and programming forward. As a result, Starting the Conversation will be sustained for years to come and will impact even more people throughout our region. The Gateway Region YMCA has committed to holding a minimum of four Starting the Conversation events per year, with at least one event in each of its four geographic districts. These events will preserve the specific event format that we have carefully developed.
Our work differs from that of other mental health organizations in that we focus on the front end of raising kids. With one out of five children ages 13 to 18 living with a mental health condition, all parents must recognize that their children may at some point be included in this population. Undoubtedly, every child will at least have a sibling, a friend, or a classmate in this population. And yet, many children do not feel comfortable talking about mental health issues, or they don't know how to do so. This is one of the reasons why there is often a delay of many years between the onset of symptoms and intervention.
Through our events--which are free, informative, and time efficient--we are showing that mental health issues can arise in children of any age, background, or circumstances, and that a vital tool for addressing these issues is conversation. We are helping parents and other caregivers learn how to converse with their kids openly and effectively about changing emotions and challenging circumstances. We are providing them with opportunities to learn from highly knowledgeable mental health professionals. We are connecting them with providers of free and low-cost mental health services. We are listening when others share their own experiences, and we are combatting stigmas in our society.
Our panels always include several parent panelists, each sharing a real life story of raising a child impacted by a mental illness, challenge, condition, or trauma. Their stories are relatable, informative, and at the heart of what we do. You will be amazed by all the positive effects of these open conversations about real life experiences. Indeed, our parent panelists often find that opening up and sharing is liberating and healing for both themselves and their children.
Our panels always include a child psychiatrist or other appropriate mental health professional. These mental health professionals always have specific experience dealing with children and adolescents. They add an essential voice of professional wisdom and clinical expertise. For example, they can illuminate why the processes of diagnosis and treatment can sometimes be long and difficult, explain how parents and professionals can work together effectively, and provide helpful information about navigating medical resources.
Starting the Conversation also connects people to providers of free and low-cost mental health services in the St. Louis area. At our events, we bring in representatives of these organizations so that people can connect with them in person and ask them questions. We know that parents often do not know where to turn, or find it difficult to schedule a timely appointment, when suddenly faced with a child's pressing mental health issue. These organizations are there to help. You can also learn about many of these organizations on our community resources page.
Julie was one of the original creators of Starting the Conversation, which she helped start and grow while working as a government attorney. After 28 years with the federal government, she retired from that work and began taking Starting the Conversation to a new level. She is also active with other charitable organizations and has deep community ties. She and her husband Mark have four adult children. She often serves as a parent panelist at Starting the Conversation events. She is currently working toward a Master of Social Work degree from the Brown School at Washington University.
Kate was one of the original creators of Starting the Conversation. She has a Bachelor degree in Psychology from Webster University and Master of Social Work degree from St. Louis University, where she later served as an adjunct professor teaching graduate level students. She also has worked as a therapist at Clayton Behavioral, a group of mental health professionals known for promoting wellness through smart and compassionate treatment. Kate has a long history of working with nonprofits in St. Louis. Her passion for Starting the Conversation stems in part from having been deeply affected from an early age by mental illness in her own family. She often serves as a moderator at Starting the Conversation events.
Mark is a healthcare attorney. He has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits in St. Louis, including serving for many years as the board president for Independence Center, an organization that provides a wide range of services to adults with chronic mental illness. His contribution to Starting the Conversation, through sound advice and organizational expertise, has been immeasurable. He also occasionally serves as a moderator at Starting the Conversation events. Mark and his wife Julie especially enjoy spending time with their adult children.
Dan has experience with multiple nonprofits in the St. Louis area. As a marketing and advertising professional, he's interested in finding ways to get more attention for the organization online. Dan built the website for Starting the Conversation. He also helps the organization identify and leverage the right technology to advance its mission.