Nov Retreat: Freeform Collaboration on Mental Health Care

I arrived yesterday, unsure of what exactly was to come. I had only very quickly opened the google document explaining the plan for the next 36 hours, leaving me vulnerable to a bit of nervous anticipation as we sat down to complete the first task. As we settled in, it didn’t seem so bad. We were just looking at everyone’s topics and organizing them in small groups. Directly after, we started in on presentations, which of course made me nervous because I didn’t really know when I was going to have to present, or what exactly I was going to end up saying in my presentation. It just so happened that I went after we had eaten lunch, closer to the end of the presenting time. I think the mine went quite well, especially since I had already put together some thoughtful slides. At times I felt hesitant of what I was saying but it seemed to work out in the end. Before dinner we had a bit of time to get comfortable in our rooms. For me, this time was nice to have. I was in a room full of five other girls which initially seemed like it was going to be rather stressful. As we got our stuff moved in and started talking, I really enjoyed everyone in my room and got to know some people I had only briefly met a great deal better. I really enjoy this program because we are given time to work, but also time to meet the other people and socialize so we can get to know each other better.

After hearing the other presentations that had similar focuses to mine, I felt rather relieved because they seemed to be passionate about the same sort of specifics regarding mental health care that I am passionate about. Once we got ourselves into the final mental health group, the ideas began to flow right away. Since we all seemed to know quite an extensive amount about the topic already, and since we had ideas of people to interview and what the final product was going to look like, we really started coming together as a collective whole, since we had such a good foundation to start from.

We had a fun evening playing games and eating more food (there really seems to be an endless amount of it here) and then fell into bed at about eleven. From the previous nights work, our group got right into talking the next morning. This discussion felt the best out of all the talks that happened throughout the weekend because our creativity and ideas started taking shape in the form of a real project, and this allowed us to look and center in on a real mission. I am very excited because I do see the possibility for my group to make a change in the Mental Health (Care) world. With all of our combined exuberance I really feel like we will have success. Our end product may not look exactly like what we have in mind, but that is okay since this project is really a process. I cannot wait to begin interviews and discussions with all the diverse individuals, programs and stakeholders we have in mind. I think our plan and end goal are both achievable if we stay focused and concentrate on putting our minds and ideas together to make it happen.

We are given so many wonderful resources and opportunities through What’s the Story? that help make these goals attainable. We also had an amazing speaker Nadia Horning a political science professor at Middlebury College talk to us during lunch about making change in the world. With What’s the Story?, we are offered lots of support and freedom to make the change we seek happen on our Social Action teams. No one is told they cannot pick the topic of their choice, the teachers and mentors do everything they can so that everyone gets the option they want. I feel very lucky every time I get to participate in a What’s the Story meeting, or in this case, retreat, because of all these amazing resources and people, be it other students, mentors or teachers that are here. We get to be with people like us who have opinions like us and we get to make change happen together, in the way we want. This is a beautiful thing for so often everything is structured for us but here we create our own plan. This retreat has reminded me of this and continued to offer me many opportunities and chances to talk with lots of terrific people. I also feel as though I learned a lot through the presentations about lots of very different social issues around the world and in Vermont.


Grace Widelitz

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