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Natural Helpers Learning Collaborative (NHLC): Phase 1

Mental Health Promotion Task Force of Rochester & Monroe County (MHPTF)

The MHPTF of Monroe County was formed in November 2007 and has been convened by the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency (FLHSA) in partnership with the Office of Mental Health Promotion of the University of Rochester’s Department of Psychiatry and the Monroe County Office of Mental Health. The MHPTF has been supported, in part, by a grant to the Department of Psychiatry from the National Institute of Mental Health. This planning process grew out of what was learned from a very special community MLK Day Grand Rounds in Psychiatry, organized in a prior year.

The vision is to create a neutral community setting where multiple stakeholders from diverse disciplines and with diverse expertise gather. The purpose is to identify priorities and ways to integrate planning across community settings and systems to foster the development of a collaborative community-wide system to strengthen positive mental health in our community.

Its goal is to design and implement collaborative projects—that measurably promote and strengthen emotional well being and functioning among families, individuals, and communities and that prevent or mitigate underlying causes of poor mental health status. Such activities, well done, can reduce the burdens of violence, substance misuse, and mental distress, and reduce preventable deaths from homicide, suicide, motor vehicle accidents, and accidental poisoning.

Additional MHPTF Pilot Project Work Group Members:

Irene Coveny, John Lee, Elizabeth McDade, Wade Norwood, Victor Saunders, Tim Weider

Pilot Grant Development Advisors:

John Blackwell, Irene Coveny, Melanie Funchess, David Grant, Nelia Kelly, Marjorie Lefler, Lilliam Torres

Natural Helpers Learning Collaborative Pilot Project: A Community-Based Participatory Research Project of the MHPTF

The pilot project is the result of a community mental health promotion planning process completed in 2008 by the MHPTF.

This study aims to develop an academic-community partnered research project to develop methods for identifying and recruiting informal neighborhood “natural helpers” who enhance mental health promotion and prosocial skills, attitudes, and knowledge among families with school aged children in Rochester, NY.

Natural helpers are individuals who residents turn to for help, for instance, when they see conflicts brewing or to reach out to formal systems on behalf of neighborhood issues like drug dealing or street beautification.

Once recruited, we together designed and initiated a learning collaborative pilot, based on our research, that aims to strengthen their informal role in reducing the normalization of violence and strengthening mental wellness among families on their street.

The pilot project ended in the summer of 2010 and was presented to the NHLC and an international conference in the fall. A publication is in the works.

NIMH funded Pilot Project (White, PI) from URMC Department of Psychiatry’s Center for Public Health & Population Interventions for Preventing Suicide P20MH071897; PI Eric D Caine)

Ann Marie White, Ed.D.
Principal Investigator (PI) of the grant
Director of the Office of Mental Health Promotion
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry

Melanie Funchess
Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI)
Key Family Contact
Monroe County ACCESS

Additional Investigators, Consultants & Project Staff

  • Craig Sellers
  • Irene Coveny
  • Caroline Nestro
  • Eric Caine
  • Nate Brown
  • Vince Silenzio
  • Xin Tu
  • Christina L. Smith
  • Rena Wu