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World Urban Network Interview on our Mental Health Branch

ONE GREAT IDEA – January 2024 

YMCA of San Francisco (YSF) 

  1. What is your idea? 
    Create a new branch within our YMCA association that focuses on mental health. This branch will look to deepen and expand our current work in mental well-being as well as provide a new lens to how we approach whole-person wellness across our association. 
  2. What opportunity or problem does your idea address? 
    The groundbreaking ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study showed us the undeniable link between mental wellness and physical health – specifically, how poor mental health can have a detrimental effect on physical wellness, contributing to significant health risks and chronic diseases. The recent pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and we have yet to understand the complete impact on our society’s mental health. We are seeing a significant gap between the need for mental health support and available resources, especially in underserved communities. 
  3. Why is this idea important to your Y? 
    This effort is a foundational element of our 2030 Vision strategic plan and is a cornerstone of two of our five strategic pillars. This plan was informed by the voices of over 1,000 individuals across our service area. 
  4. How did you get started? 
    Our journey started in the early 1980s with the acquisition of 3 Youth Service Bureaus – community-based mental health clinics started in 1969 in an effort to offer alternatives to jailing youth who were first time offenders. We began to evolve the idea of utilizing mental health principles in service delivery via our Reach and Rise program, which was created to teach therapeutic principles to volunteer mentors supervised by mental health clinicians to support ‘at-risk’ youth through a scalable model that does not rely on having to have one-on-one therapy sessions. Another program that evolved was the School Safety Advocate program, which was created in response to the 1999 Columbine (Colorado) school shooting tragedy. Mental Health clinicians were placed at school sites to offer drop-in and crisis support, along with consultations and training to teachers. The success of these programs in addressing emerging needs led to our realization that we needed to bridge the physical and mental health worlds. 
  5. How does the idea work? 
    Long term, the Mental Health Branch will be open to all individuals/members served across YSF in all three counties, including youth and their families, seniors, adults, wellness members, etc. Areas of focus include: 
  • Existing programs and services 
  • Alignment – between Health Initiatives and Mental Health Departments 
  • Centralization, Standardization, Quality/Compliance, Grant and Contract and Training Support 
  • Expansion (new grants, support for any mental health efforts) 

     6.    What funding is required to implement the idea?
Funding is mostly governmental grants and private foundation dollars. We also leverage mental health trainees – graduate students finishing their graduate degree in counseling who need to complete a 1-year internship – to provide direct mental health treatment to clients.

 7. How did you get buy-in on the idea?
Through the creation of our 2030 Vision and Strategic Plan, our communities (members, staff, volunteers, board, etc.) all elevated recognition of increased community need and challenged YSF to step forward in this area. In short, we listened to our community.

8.    How do you, or how do you plan to, measure effectiveness?
By 2030, we hope to have achieved the following:

  • Address gaps in services such as supporting our adult and active older adult populations, since currently our work is mostly focused on youth
  • Create centralized support and expertise to address challenges faced within branches (e.g. crisis situations; provide support to staff teams who have experienced trauma; consult on meeting the needs and addressing challenges within Youth Development programming to work toward reducing suspension and expulsions from programs)
  • Establish a dedicated infrastructure to envision, co-create and implement mental health services with member experience and health initiatives teams
  • Provide dedicated support/infrastructure for increasing funding to expand services. 

9.    Where can people get more information? 

Evelyn Daskalakis
Vice President of Social Services & Mental Health 

Chip Rich
Chief Operating Officer YMCA of San Francisco

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