The power of a community to heal itself in a way true to its culture was the core of a public presentation hosted by Montgomery County’s Office of the County Executive, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Latino Health Initiative, the University of Maryland School of Public Health and Identity.

With over 100 people attending, Identity and researcher Dr. Amy Lewin of the University of Maryland School of Public Health shared preliminary findings of Identity’s Encuentros emotional support groups, a multi-session program run by the community for the community. Encuentros was created as a non-clinical strategy as part of a larger effort to address mental health needs exacerbated by the pandemic, including the youth mental health crisis.  The program has been continuously evaluated and improved through community feedback. Dr. Lewin and colleagues Dr. Kevin Roy and Dr. Sophia Rodriguez have marshalled further research support through a University of Maryland Grand Challenge Grant.

In an article about the program and presentation in Maryland Today, the author quoted Dr. Lewin: “The power of Encuentros comes from the community,” Dr. Lewin said. What was most surprising to Lewin was the magnitude of the change participants experienced during the program. She explained that even small changes can meaningfully improve people’s well-being, but that when she saw a statistical comparison showing how much anxiety and stress decreased for participants, “I nearly fell off my chair.”

Read the article here.

As reported in the Washington Post, “governors across the country are putting the youth mental health crisis at the top of their agendas” and sharing information about programs showing promise. Rich Madaleno, Montgomery County’s Chief Administrative Officer, noted that it is a priority for Governor Wes Moore and County Executive Marc Elrich, too.

“I am proud to share that a very promising and innovative non-clinical intervention is taking root right here,” Madaleno said at the event. “Encuentros is the product of a unique partnership between Latino residents of Montgomery County, county government, academia (University of Maryland), philanthropy, and a leading community-based organization (Identity). As partners, we drew heavily on one essential lesson of the pandemic: community members often hold the key to solving their greatest challenges.”

The briefing was held on November 2, 2023. As well as Dr. Lewin and CAO Madaleno, speakers included Assistant CAO Sonia Mora, DHHS Chief of Behavioral Health Dr. Rolando Santiago, Executive Director Diego Uriburu and Program Director Carolyn Camacho of Identity, and Community Mental Health Workers Ana Guerra and Claudia de Leon.