The Mexican Independence Day celebration in Colusa on September 17 went well.
Organizers expected a huge crowd to attend the event, but the turnout was scattered throughout the day commented Dereck Parks, Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) coordinator for Colusa County Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Departments that planned the celebration. Parks estimated the total attendance for the event at around 200 individuals.
The event initially caused some concern of how county tax dollars were being spent. It was in fact hosted by the Department, but in actuality, the department’s efforts to host this event were designed as an outreach to an underserved population in the county and part of the cultural competence education component of the Department.
“In Colusa County, that population is the Hispanic community,” said Colusa County Behavioral Health interim director William Cornelius. “This was an event which not only met Medi-Cal mandates for outreach, but it also was a step toward completing the cultural competency component mandated by the State Department of Mental Health,” added Cornelius.
Volunteers from the Behavioral Health Department stepped up to plan this event. For-profit groups were charged a booth fee to defray expenses. The bounce houses for the children were donated by department employee Carolina Munoz. Another employee, Melanie Whetchill donated her face painting skills and provided free craft activities for the children.
Parks commented that with all of the donations of services, time and talents, the entire event was hosted on very little money from the department.
“Colusa County receives considerable funding through MHSA which funds services to all cultures in the county,” explained Cornelius. “The Department is mandated by the state to continue outreach to our underserved communities until such time as our service population is reflective of the Medi-Cal eligible population,” said Cornelius
“We have been involved in many events in the county including Olde Tyme Christmas, Colusa County Fair, and past July 4th celebrations, and of course our annual Stamp Out Stigma Rally,” said Cornelius.
“The stigma of mental illness is a huge reality and it is our job to remove that stigma,” said Cornelius.
“Events such as the one we just hosted go a long way in sending a prevention message as well as providing education and outreach to remove that stigma,” he said.
While Saturday’s event was geared to the Hispanic community in Colusa County, it also benefited a number of non-Hispanic groups.
Behavioral Health’s Safe Haven Drop-In Center was represented as well hoping to generate funding for its continued operation. The Drop-In Center is based at the Behavioral Health building, but the day to day operation operates solely on donations. The center is a safe place for individuals with mental health challenges to gather for educational and recreational activities.
Friday Night Live, a teen-based drug and alcohol free organization was also represented at the event. They were at the park to ask parents to sign a pledge not to provide alcohol to underage people. Approximate 50 parents signed the pledge according to Mark McGregor, Prevention/Substance Abuse Counselor.
Additionally, the celebration was a drug and alcohol free event. “It is very important that we promote a safe family atmosphere in anything we host,” said Parks. It is our duty to reach out to all families of Colusa County and to set the example of healthy families.
“Our department and all of the activities we promote are first and foremost about reaching all Colusa County’s families with the best possible message. We primarily want to erase the stigma of mental illness so that people feel safe and secure in requesting our services,” said Cornelius. ■