Active Minds is all about raising mental health awareness on campus. However, chapters are also part of larger communities that could benefit from our messaging, too! We interviewed Floie Stouder, the advisor for Active Minds at Indiana University – Purdue University at Fort Wayne (IPFW), and Diana Mathew and Brynne Alexander, president and vice president of Active Minds at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), to get some pointers on how your chapter can become more integrated with your local community.
- Make community connections through your campus counseling center.
Whether you have a staff liaison in the counselor center or your advisor is on the counseling staff, ask your campus counseling center about local organizations you could partner with. They may know of ongoing and upcoming activities with local mental health organizations and other relevant organizations. Stouder shared, “If the therapist that works with the chapter knows the community and has connections, and students make themselves aware of what [volunteer opportunities are] out there, they can decide as a team what they want to participate in that fits the mission of Active Minds.”
- Link up with local chapters of major mental health groups and related organizations.
Most regions across the country have local chapters of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Have your chapter register for their community walks or volunteer at their community events. To this point, Alexander emphasized, “The simple act of searching for various organizations like NAMI or AFSP and reaching out to them goes a long way. See when they have meeting times, and attend! See when they are planning community events and offer those as volunteer events for your chapter members.”
For instance, the IPFW chapter has volunteered at a local bereavement center called Erin’s House. Stouder explained, “This is a place in the community for grieving families and children who have lost loved ones to go for meetings and support. Once a year, I have new Active Minds students tour Erin’s House to promote awareness. Sometimes, someone commits to [regularly] volunteering for Erin’s House.” Turning a one-time service event into a regular volunteer activity can strengthen your ties to the community and give you perspective on how mental health factors into real-world situations.
- Create an officer position devoted to service events.
If planning outreach activities is not currently within the scope of your executive board, create a position for a volunteer/outreach coordinator. Have the coordinator research volunteer opportunities in your community, including at hospitals, local schools, bereavement centers, children’s and women’s shelters, and mental health centers, and schedule a few hours one weekend to serve. Your chapter could even set up a bimonthly/monthly volunteer schedule with one or more organizations, if your chapter members express interest in doing so. Subscribing to the e-mailing lists for these organizations is a good way to stay up-to-date with upcoming volunteer opportunities.
Your volunteer/outreach coordinator should strive to make service events as inclusive and convenient as possible. For volunteer events held on the weekends, public transportation may not be running as per usual, which may make getting off campus difficult. Mathew and Alexander recommended that chapter members meet at a central location on campus and then carpool to volunteer events. Your volunteer/outreach coordinator can offer club credits or incentives to members who attend, and offer extra credits to those who offer their vehicles to carpool!
- Partner with other related student organizations for their community service events.
A great way to strengthen or develop partnerships on campus is to join another student organization’s service events. Connect with the leadership in other organizations over email, send a representative to other organizations’ general meetings, or, as Mathew suggested, “Ask if any of your chapter members are involved in other organizations with upcoming volunteer opportunities.” This will allow your chapter to foster meaningful partnerships and coordinate collaborative service events. For example, the Active Minds chapter at UTSA has previously coordinated with the student psychology club for joint volunteer events at the San Antonio State Hospital.
Alexander shared, “We’ve found that most ideas that we have, like screening a movie about depression or hosting a tabling event about sexual assault, have a much greater impact through partnerships and communication with other student organizations. It’s most important to keep an open mind about potential collaborations; don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone and everyone that could be of help to your cause.”