2015 John E. Martin Fellow, Danielle Spoor

Thanks to Danielle Spoor, MPH/MSW 16, for sharing her experience as the first John E. Martin Fellow. The purpose of the fellowship is to provide support for high-achieving, continuing full-time MBA, MPH and/or MSW students at UC Berkeley who demonstrate through 1) a student-initiated business/startup or 2) a summer internship commitment to improving the quality of and the access to mental healthcare. One recipient will be selected each year and will receive $10,000.  Applications for the 2016 JEM Fellowship are due on April 20, details here.

About 120 miles north of San Francisco resides the small, cliff-side town of Gualala, California. A rural town, there are only about eight thousand people who call the area home. While the rural isolation is a draw for many residents, it also makes accessing medical care difficult. The nearest hospital is more than an hour’s drive away, and a local community clinic, “RCMS”, is the sole medical care provider within a 70-mile radius. Mental health services are even scarcer, with very few mental health professionals in the area.

When a string of mental health crises hit the Gualala community in 2015, the dearth of mental health services became apparent. Local leaders became aware that suicidality, alcohol-related accidents, and mental illness were affecting many families. Furthermore, when accidents happen in such a small town, everyone is affected; there is a sudden need for grief support services that is difficult to meet. As a result of the crisis events last year, leaders became concerned about the Coast’s ability to respond to local mental health issues, and were newly aware of the need to collaborate on mental health promotion and crisis prevention.

The JEM Fellowship, dedicated to increasing access to mental health care services, allowed former Gualala resident Danielle Spoor to return to her hometown to address this issue. With the support from the fellowship and from RCMS, Spoor brought together local movers and shakers from across the community, to form a mental health action coalition. This group provided a space for community members to have their voices and interests heard, and included local Native American tribal leaders, Latino service providers, youth leaders, and senior representatives. Over a series of community meetings, the group identified common mental health interests, and created a coalition that will be able to work together on these issues for years to come. This is the first collaboration of this type in Gualala.

The coalition’s first success was developing a “Community Wellness” event in February of this year, which showcased over 25 local resources related to mental health. The event succeeded in drawing over 120 community members (a significant achievement in the rural context), and included the participation of people of various ages, cultures, and languages. With this showcase of local resources and healers, a new network was formed of people dedicated to addressing community mental health issues before crisis emerges, and to act together when crisis hits. In a rural community that often lacks outside support, this event brought to light how many internal resources exist in Gualala, and inspired leaders to create new collaborations.

With JEM support, Spoor also helped the clinic RCMS increase its ability to increase mental health outreach. After studying clinical Spanish in Guatemala for two weeks, Spoor returned to Gualala to help RCMS translate outreach materials into Spanish, in an effort to reach more local Spanish-speaking families. Spoor also collaborated with RCMS to initiate increased collaboration with county-level mental health services, catalyzing several efforts to increase financial and political county support for mental health in Gualala.