A Delaware Arts Center Helps Families Through Its Mental Health Initiative

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The Christina Cultural Arts Center launches an innovative mental health program for families coping with isolation due to COVID-19.

Being able to successfully pivot during a global pandemic is one of the many ways Christina Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) continues to fulfill its mission to improve the lives of local families.

Best known for providing affordable arts, cultural, career prep and educational programs in a safe and welcoming environment, the CCAC looked at critical community needs that emerged during COVID-19 and moved quickly to fill the chasm by including free mental health services in addition to arts and education initiatives.

From April to June 2020, the CCAC had to close its doors as a result of the state coronavirus mandate, but executive director James “Ray” Rhodes and his team did not want to abandon local families undergoing enormous stress due to lost jobs, rent/financial concerns and food anxiety.

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The center switched to virtual karaoke and art classes to keep the community engaged, but even when the programs started up again in late August 2020, the CCAC wanted to do a great deal more to address basic needs.

Rhodes and his team sought funding to fill those needs and were able to establish Social Emotional Response to the Vast Inequities Caused by Epidemics (SERVICE), a community and statewide mental health platform underwritten by a grant from DuPont. Additional funding came from the state Department of Education’s Trauma Health Recover Innovation and Engagement (THRIVE) program, which addresses the mental health needs of children in grades K through 12.

This is how the SERVICE program works: When CCAC identifies a family in need of internet access for virtual learning, parents seeking a job or other urgent problems, Rhodes uses its resources to connect those families with social service providers who can help. This ensures these families don’t fall through the cracks, which can happen frequently when individuals and families seek vital social services on their own.

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Additionally, families facing personal challenges, such as stress and anxiety related to these turbulent times, are connected with one of seven vetted mental health professionals, including a bilingual Spanish-speaking therapist. “The family members get the services and CCAC gets the bill,” Rhodes explains.

“While shifting our program delivery and staying connected with our students throughout this pandemic, one thing was apparent: Our families were hurting,” Rhodes says. “Not only from the tumult of COVID-19 but also from mass financial struggles, a clear and evident technology divide, and much more. The program was born out of the mental health challenges our families were having dealing with so much.”

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The 75-year-old nonprofit has traditionally focused on early learning and is best known for its art exhibitions, music classes, and dance and dramatic performances for children and adults.

It serves some 500 students each year and welcomes 3,000 art supporters, who attend annual visual art exhibits as well as public dance, music and student performances. Currently, the early learning center and after school program and School of the Arts are in full swing; in fact, enrollment has increased by 25 percent.

Rhodes has been involved with CCAC since 1994 and started as executive director in 2019, succeeding Raye Jones Avery, who served at CCAC for 28 years.

“For that period of time when our students couldn’t perform music, drama or dance except virtually, it was evident they didn’t know how to deal with missing prom or graduation, or how to handle the technology divide,” he points out. “So, we wanted to provide an avenue for them to get sorely needed social and emotional connections that would make it a little easier to help them to deal with their roller-coaster of emotions.”

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When state mandates related to the pandemic forced CCAC to close its facilities, adversely affecting its community, his team was propelled into action.

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“We took a survey of their needs and found there were lost jobs, food deficiencies, fear of utilities being turned off, no childcare, and no internet for their children doing virtual classes,” Rhodes explains. “We felt it was important to stay connected and keep lines of communication open.”

Patrick McCrummen, the global community impact leader for DuPont, says his company wanted to become involved because mental health care is needed across Delaware, especially for those whose lives are extremely difficult or who struggle to meet their basic needs.

“We welcomed the opportunity to help Christina Cultural Arts Center, to provide this unique program and to bring in professionals to talk with parents and children in a safe and loving way,” he says.

McCrummen leads the Community Impact Strategy at DuPont, which focuses on basic needs: access to food, shelter, water and social services—all of which became less available during the pandemic.

What makes this such an important initiative is that CCAC is “at the heart of the community,” he says. “For many people in Delaware, this is a family center that has pivoted during the pandemic to help provide mental health services and other basic needs.”

For further information, visit www.ccacde.org or call 302-652-0101.

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