Legacy and Leadership Awards were created to recognize and celebrate acts of community leadership in honor of our founder Charles Blandin’s 75-year legacy of leadership.
Legacy and Leadership Award recipient Amanda Okech knows that the conversation surrounding mental illness is one that needs expansion.
“We treat a sick brain so much differently than we treat any other illness of the body,” she says. “We need a massive change at a very structural level and that change starts with a simple conversation: So many people are impacted and yet there still exists a suffocating stigma across our culture.”
One in four American adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime.
Amanda is a co-director for the Kiesler House, a peer-driven community support program for adults impacted by mental illness, and a driving force behind the Kiesler Wellness Center—which is slated to open next summer. She has 10 years of experience in the mental health field. Along with her capital campaign for the Kiesler Wellness Center, Amanda serves on the board of directors at the YMCA and presented at the St. Louis County Health and Human Services Conference last fall.
In their nomination of Amanda, Taylor Jackson and Steven Loney said, “Amanda built the Community Certified Peer Support Program and she secured a $200,000 grant to fund training and continue peer support. The good she has done is immeasurable”
Throughout her experiences working in the field, Amanda has come to understand that her influence is most effective when she can maintain a very personal interaction. But this same experience has led her to believe that she can do much more to expand the conversation about mental illness on a larger scale by using her skill set to train others in her process.
“Alone, I can only help so many people. Hypothetically, let’s say that ceiling is 20. My belief is that people who have experienced mental illness are best equipped to provide support for those who are struggling. So if I can provide training to 20 people and each of those peers are out there helping and training, it’s a much greater overall impact.”
The $4.4 million dollar Kiesler Wellness Center will offer a person-centered approach to mental health and addiction recovery by using physical and spiritual wellness in conjunction with learning, healing and empowerment. The hope is that through the Kiesler Wellness Center, people can experience increased independence and find the motivating spirit behind community involvement.
Amanda refers to this approach as, “going beyond the traditional round of meds, therapy and treatment. It’s about providing services where life happens.”
To learn more about the Kiesler Wellness Center Project visit www.kieslerwellnesscenter.org
Photo credit: Grand Rapids Herald Review