Above: At ICC’s 8th Annual Seeds of Hope event May 11 at Finn’s Harborside, from left, guest speaker and ICC board member Paul Cavanagh, ICC Executive Director Christine King, Chris Emerson Award Honoree Kathy Blackburn and Master of Ceremonies Ken Bell.
By Maura Legare
As the month of May comes to a close and we eagerly look forward to the lazy, hazy days of summer, we may also be aware of emotional challenges the change of seasons can bring for some. Family members, neighbors and friends, or we ourselves may struggle to see the joy in the blooming flowers, longer days, and family gatherings. According to the CDC, one in five adults suffer from some form of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. While it seems like the prevalence of mental health disorders among adults and teens appears to have risen due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been made more aware of these statistics in recent months thanks to the bravery of patients and caregivers who share their experiences and challenges with mental illness in the hope of raising awareness and research dollars.
One organization that has been providing help on the front lines of the mental health battle for four decades is the Interfaith Counseling Center, located in the Open Table of Christ Church in Providence. Since 1973, the Interfaith Counseling Center (ICC) has been a trusted source of counseling committed to making its services available to all in need, maintaining the mission of accessible, affordable, and sensitive counseling care for all. With an outreach office in East Greenwich at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, help for those struggling is available right here in our own community. East Greenwich resident Christine King has been the executive director of the ICC for the past 10 years and remains firmly committed to continuation of the growth and mission of the ICC.
One of the many services provided by the ICC is the “Can We Talk?” program. According to the center’s website, Can We Talk? Is a “monthly community event to foster connection and empower individuals to take an active role in helping themselves and others. It is an opportunity to share and listen to other community members stories of trauma, loss, healing and hope. This is a supportive environment that includes artistic expression, formalized peer support and a mental health counselor is on the call and available after.”
In its effort to raise funds and awareness of the counseling services available in Providence and right here in East Greenwich, ICC held its Eighth Annual “Seeds of Hope” fundraising event on Thursday, May 11, at Finn’s Harborside. Entitled “A Night of Inspiration and Conversation,” the evening was hosted by master of ceremonies Ken Bell and featured guest speaker and ICC board member Paul Cavanagh. Paul’s brother Tommy, a former R.I. hockey standout at Toll Gate, Harvard and the NHL, succumbed to mental illness in 2011. His family, determined to help raise awareness and funding for those struggling with mental illness, formed the Thomas G. Cavanagh Fund which is now partnering with the ICC in its efforts.
Also at the event, the first annual Chris Emerson Award was given to ICC social worker Kathy Blackburn, in honor of her dedication and her ability to see the beauty in people and in their stories – highlighting the positive and lifting up strengths. Executive Director King extolled Kathy’s efforts, praising “her humble work, connecting clients, friends, families and organizations, making large and small changes to build the team and the mission of the Interfaith Counseling Center, bringing health and connection to our clients.” The award is named for Chris Emerson, a former North Kingstown Police detective and devoted husband and father who tragically took his own life after suffering from severe depression for much of his adult life. Ironically, Chris was an active and dedicated board member of ICC and used his amateur photography skills to highlight many of the group’s activities. He had photographed several Seeds Of Hope events over the years.
In Kathy’s acceptance speech, she said, “As a woman of faith, I wake up each morning and ask the Lord to please put people in front of me that I can help today.” She was filled with gratitude and honored that her dear friend, Dr. Mark Schwager, current president of the East Greenwich Town Council, was in attendance, showing his support.
The bottom line for Kathy and Christine is to spread the word to those in need of help, to make them feel less alone, heard, and supported. According to Kathy, “We want others to know that people within our own circles, our own families and friendships often struggle with their own issues with mental health and substance abuse. There should be no shame in seeking treatment, however there is. At the Interfaith, we are here to help. We need support and donations.”
“I am humbled and honored by the trust people put in us to walk alongside them on their journeys of health and healing,” said King. “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the community in this way, and grateful for all the support that makes this work possible”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges, or you’d like to help support the ICC or the Thomas G. Cavanagh Fund, you can reach out to the Interfaith Counseling Center at 401- 461-5243, email: [email protected] or visit https://interfaithri.org/
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