Thoughts from the Active Minds Speakers Bureau: Why I’m Thankful This Year

From left to right: Jordan Burnham, Stacy Pershall, Alison Malmon, Meg Hutchinson, Maggie Bertram, Daneé Sergeant and Dave Romano at the 2014 National Mental Health on Campus Conference.

From left to right: Jordan Burnham, Stacy Pershall, Alison Malmon, Meg Hutchinson, Maggie Bertram, Daneé Sergeant and Dave Romano at the 2014 National Mental Health on Campus Conference.

As we approach Thanksgiving, one of my favorite times of the holiday season (and the whole year!), many people reflect on what they’re most grateful for in their lives: family, friends, good health (physical and mental), school, job, the well-timed release of Mockingjay or their football team’s record.

This year, I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’m acutely aware of how richly I’ve been blessed.  I have a family that loves me, friends who have my back, and a new job that is challenging and fun and deeply rewarding.

As the Director of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau, I have discovered that I have a whole new dimension to my circle, and it’s made up of 12 of the most remarkable people I’ve met in my life.  They are the speakers who comprise the bureau, and I could not have asked for a more dedicated, mindful or passionate group of people to represent Active Minds and take its mission out to the world.

Bryan Adams, our sole military veteran, uses his talents to advocate for student vets at Rutgers, and shares his own story of PTSD and struggle with other mental health issues upon his return from Iraq. Although he probably wouldn’t call himself a hero, hundreds of people who have heard him speak believe he is.  Thank you for your service, Bryan.

Although she’s also an Active Minds staff member, Maggie Bertram is a vital part of the speaker team.  In addition to training new members of the speakers bureau, she coaches and encourages her colleagues, as well as travels the country sharing her own narrative of disorder survival, empowering those who hear her message to advocate for their own treatment and recovery.

Jordan Burnham is a one-man crash course in survival.  His good-natured way of telling his story underscores his deep understanding that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a way of standing up for personal mental healthcare.  He relates to everyone across age, economic, class, gender and racial lines, easily connecting with each person he meets.

Colleen Coffey is a fiery Southern lady who has turned her own history of mental health concerns into a career focused on helping college students, especially those involved in Greek Life, to grow and succeed while on campus and beyond.  She shares her talents at Active Minds speaking events, offering her own story of recovery and strength to audiences across the nation.

Soft-spoken and spiritual, Meg Hutchinson is a powerful advocate for mental health awareness and healing.  She illuminates her own story of illness, treatment and recovery with music, singing lyrics drawn from her own life experiences and those of people she’s known.  Meg touches audiences in a profound and meaningful way.

Juliana Kerrest is bright and bold; she focuses her talks on advocacy, encouraging those in her audiences to speak up for themselves and pro-actively seek out and take advantage of the many avenues of treatment available.  She believes that everyone has a voice, and she uses hers to exhort others to do the same for themselves.

Cameron Mack is devoted to helping others overcome the obstacles to finding help for their own mental health disorders.  Using a multi-faceted treatment protocol, he has found a pathway to recovery, and uses his role as an Active Minds speaker to spread the message of hope and empowerment.  He also teaches that by creating supportive communities, we can all find healing.

Vivacious and out-going, Janelle Montano is a fierce believer in participating actively in one’s mental health wellness plan, and of creating an atmosphere of safety and acceptance where everyone can feel like a part of their own treatment.  She delivers her message of life balance and mind-body connection to students as well as adult audiences.

Stacy Pershall‘s unique and engaging manner draws her audiences in and keeps them connected as she shares the story of her personal mental health journey and the many crossroads she’s encountered along the way.  Unafraid to reveal the intimate details of her inner life, she offers hope that there is healing available with the right diagnosis and treatment.

David Romano may be the youngest member of the bureau, but he’s not a typical Gen Y guy.  Because of his own mental health issues, Dave is passionate about giving of himself, both as a speaker and as a champion of those confronting their own mental health issues. He especially wants men to know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

Resilient, artistic, funny and complex, Daneé Sergeant always has a ready smile and a kind word, despite a life-story filled with trauma, homelessness and mental illness.  Determined to help others who suffer the same issues, she’s fulfilling her dream to attend Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service so she can reach out and empower others through official channels.

So, on Thursday, as I gather with the rest of the folks around my dinner table, I will be grateful for these twelve people who are courageous, kind, caring and smart. I know they’re grateful for each other and for those who have supported them along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving!