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Helping NYC Thrive, Hamaspik Kings Staff Join City Mental Health Effort

ThriveNYC Program Seeks to Dramatically Improve New York Statistics


It’s long been a pet project of New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray.  And it’s arguably been overdue for even longer.  Its full name is ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All.


Launched in November 2015, ThriveNYC is the Big Apple’s concerted and agency-wide effort to overhaul its mental health services—and help citizens with mental-health issues get the help they need.  It comprises 54 initiatives, 23 of them new.


ThriveNYC revolves around its informative and professionally-staffed 24-hour hotline, which has been fielding hundreds of calls daily since its launch.  But that’s only the beginning.


Changing societal perceptions

This past July 27, Hamaspik of Kings County’s intrepid Naftali Tessler was one of about 100 attendees at an event at the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House in Bensonhurst.


Self-explanatorily titled “A Community Conversation about Mental Health with the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray,” the event was yet another forum Ms. McCray has been hosting at numerous non-profit venues across the city since 2015.


Having spoken at dozens of community centers, schools and houses of worship over the past two years, Ms. McCray has been open about mental illness in her own family, including her own parents’ and daughter’s struggles with depression.


Her own willingness to broach a subject long considered shameful and otherwise taboo in many communities has fostered a more accepting and less fearful attitude towards mental illness in those communities, the First Lady has consistently found.


Ms. McCray’s mental-health reform efforts have not been limited to the city stage, though.


Taking a national lead, she has organized a bipartisan coast-to-coast coalition of over 150 mayors working on solving their cities’ mental-health problems.


In early May of this year, Ms. McCray and a handful of those mayors testified before Congress and later met with top brass at the federal U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS).


Both efforts apprised lawmakers and government executives of the realities of mental health care at the grassroots level—and how publicly-funded programs provided by city governments can make all the difference in preventing long-term mental health-related quality-of-life problems like homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse.


In short, in appearances at synagogues, youth drop-in centers and other venues alike across New York City’s diverse communities, the First Lady has hawked long-term mental-health solutions that incorporate family, faith and that most important and too-often-missing ingredient: love.


The July 27 discussion in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, which Hamaspik attended, was one of Ms. McCray’s latest grassroots outreach efforts.


Allied for the next big thing

The mental health-oriented event was co-sponsored by four non-profit entities with an active presence in Bensonhurst. 


Hosted by New York City Council Member and Hamaspik friend David G. Greenfield, the event was co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association and the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, both representing the district’s sizable population of Chinese heritage.


Also sponsoring the event was OHEL, a respected longtime disability services provider in the Jewish community, and the local Community Board 11.


Hamaspik’s attendance was solicited by Mr. Pinchos “Pinny” Ringel, an official liaison in the Mayor’s Office to the Brooklyn Jewish community.


With Hamaspik now on the cusp of “going big time” with its new HARP mental-health program, the agency is keen on opening a major new front—doing for its communities’ mental health needs what it’s long successfully done for its communities’ disability needs, and most recently, home-care needs.


Aware of that fact, Mr. Ringel saw to Hamaspik’s inclusion at the event—allowing the First Lady to find yet another community ally in her efforts to assist the one in five New Yorkers with a diagnosable mental illness.


Besides Mr. Tessler, taking up Mr. Ringel’s invitation was Hamaspik of Kings County’s very own Mordechai “Mutty” Solomon, LMHC.


Following the First Lady’s talk and Q&A session with the crowd, Messrs. Solomon and Tessler worked the crowd, meeting and greeting peers across the non-profit and public-service sectors with a shared interest in community mental-health solutions.


Among those one-on-one conversations were a brief but fruitful chat between Mr. Solomon and ThriveNYC Outreach Director Jenn Paez.


The two mental-health professionals shared a few moments of “shop talk” on what ThriveNYC will next be rolling out, what the city OMH can help Hamaspik with—and what Hamaspik can help the Dept. of Mental Health with, according to Mr. Solomon.


Of specific mutual interest was helping Brooklyn’s Yiddish-speaking Jewish communities better access mental-health services.


With its grassroots origins in those very communities, Hamaspik has long been seen by those communities as the go-to authority for all things services-related.


“There’s a lot that can be done in the area of mental health, especially with the stigma,” Mr. Solomon later told the Gazette.  “You could have regular people, successful people, who just need a little help with anxiety”—and who do not tell anyone they need professional help for fear of losing jobs, or of being passed on personal introductions in the marriage-heavy community.


Those are but two examples of the toll of the oft-unreported and oft-untreated mental illness in Hamaspik’s primary communities—and a toll that, with support now coming from Gracie Mansion on down, will hopefully cost decreasingly less.