Category Archives: Office of Diversity & Equity

Arab American Heritage Month

April marks National Arab American Heritage Month. Included in the California Senate Resolution are the acknowledgements that Arab Americans have been making valuable contributions to every aspect of American Society, set fine examples of model citizens, bring resilient family values, strong work ethic, dedication to education, and more. Read about the resolution here.

Here at the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE), we are working to also recognize and support the Arab and Arab American communities.

In collaboration with ODE, BHRS, and the Arab Workgroup, students in the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) at Jefferson High School shared their stories. The students shared their stories in response to the framing question, “What does mental wellness look like in you community?”.

The students shared that they feel “othered”, that they are challenged with balancing expectations from two cultures, and that they are hopeful with their faith in Allah.

Sharing these stories is important for many reasons, including building visibility and recognizing the lived experiences of a community who’s stories are marginalized. As you read these stories, think about how you show up for our Arab and Arab American colleagues and consumers.

Similarly related, the U.S. government classified people of Middle Eastern descent as “white” since 1970. This has made it challenging to get an accurate count of Arab Americans in the U.S. and to determine how members of this population are succeeding financially, academically, etc. ODE is challenging this in our own health system by working with the Arab Work Group to add an option to the race/ethnicity demographic form that distinguishing Arab and Arab Americans from Middle Easterns. With this, we will be able to keep better track of the services we provide to ensure that we provide equitable care to all communities!

MHSA Innovation Community Forums | 4/17 – 5/10

MHSA Community Forums from April 17th to May 10th. See flyers for times and locations. 

During the forums, participants will learn about three technology innovations that are intended to:

  • Increase access to mental health care
  • Promote early detection of mental health symptoms
  • Predict the onset of mental illness 

Additionally, stakeholder feedback will be gathered around community needs and considerations to best adapt the technology innovations for San Mateo County.

For more information, please contact Doris Estremera, MHSA Manager at destremera@smcgov.org or (650) 219-3840.

Empowering Youth to be Change Agents

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HAP-Y Cohort

The Health Ambassador Program for Youth (HAP-Y) is an innovative and community-developed program delivered by StarVista. It is designed for youth ages 16 to 24 who are interested in advocating for communities that have been touched by mental health challenges, raising awareness about mental wellness and increasing access to mental health services. The program is funded by innovation funds through the Mental Health Services Act, which are designed to engage individuals, families and communities to be active change agents regarding wellness, particularly behavioral health. The program is managed by BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE), whose primary focus is reaching and engaging vulnerable families and communities in San Mateo.  

The participants of the program, most whom have lived experience with mental health challenges, participate in a 14-week training program, creating a personal Wellness Recovery Action, and learning about common mental health challenges and the principles of suicide prevention.

HAP-Y Cohort

After completing the trainings, HAP-Y graduates are encouraged to conduct community presentations to start conversations and increase knowledge about mental health and community supports available. In the first year of HAP-Y, 20 youth successfully completed the program. They have already reached an audience of over 300 through classroom-based presentations. Preliminary evaluations suggest an increase of over 30 percent in knowledge of where to seek supports and services for mental health issues.

HAP-Y has seen success, not only in reaching an audience, but in providing a sense of community for participants. HAP-Y graduates said the group provided a welcoming and loving environment, where they could have real conversations about topics that they are often unable to have with their peers.

As the program enters its second year, there is an additional focus on continuing to engage past participants and building on their skills and passions. If you are interested in learning more about the program, please contact hapy@star-vista.org.

The next 14-week HAP-Y training will start on May 15th and will be hosted in Half Moon Bay. Please share this information with any youth you think may be interested in participating in this program. 

Co-written by Narges Dillon, Brenda Nunez & Islam Hassanein, StarVista and Nancy Chen, ODE

Immigration’s Threat to Health

The topic of immigration is controversial and complex. However regardless of one’s personal views on the issue, it is undeniable that the uncertainty and lack of information  in our communities is ultimately detrimental to the communities’ health. An article by the Washington Post describes how the stress experienced by the threat of deportation can have devastating effects on health, beyond those immediately affected.

“Over time, such chronic stress, unaddressed, will make them far more vulnerable to heart disease, asthma, diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The University of Michigan conducted a study on the impact of the 2008 federal immigration raid in Postville, Iowa, the largest in U.S. history. The study found an increase of Hispanic babies born with low birth weight, which can cause long term health risks, a 24% increase in comparison to the year before. 

The study also found that the risk for low birth weight was equally high for Latinas with protected legal status, “…in spite of their apparent safety, their bodies were reacting as if they, too, could soon be deported.” This can result in an “epigenetic” effect that modifies the way genes are expressed, allowing for the transmission of “vulnerabilities to stress from one generation to the next.”

While the debate over immigration continues, it is important to take a moment to recognize that what affects one group actually affects us all. We have a responsibility to care for the health of all community members, but equally important, to stay informed and aid those who are vulnerable.

Read more

May 4: Art of Wellness Festival – Mental Health Awareness Month

This year, in celebration of May Mental Health Awareness Month (MMHAM), San Mateo County’s annual kick-off event will be on May 4th from 6-9pm at Cunha Intermediate School in Half Moon Bay

Did you know 1 in 4 people experience a mental health challenge, but fewer than half are getting the help they need? One of the main reasons for this is due to the large amounts of stigma towards mental health. 

At this FREE event, learn about mental wellness and how to stop stigma in your community. Learn about all the mental health resources available in your community to understand that help is available. 

Enjoy FREE food, dance performances from local dance groups, poetry slams, short film screenings, wellness crafts, and more! 

We welcome everyone! 

AANHPI Intergenerational Feast: Culture, Connection, Community | Sunday, 5/20

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For the first time, in celebration of San Mateo County’s (SMC) Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities, Chinese Health Initiative (CHI), Filipino Mental Health Initiative (FMHI), and Pacific Islander Initiative (PII) collaborate to host a free intergenerational feast for the community filled with delicious free food, inspirational speakers, raffles, and wellness practice performances

Historically SMC’s AANHPI communities have had few events to recognize and celebrate one another. The goal of this event is to bridge the SMC AANHPI communities across ethnicities/ generations to be empowered together towards wellness. The event aims to strengthen relationships  and break the AANHPI communities from their silos. 

Please RSVP for the event by May 16th by emailing Kristie Lui at kflui@smcgov.org or calling her at (650) 573- 5037. 

We hope to see you all there!

Written by Kristie Lui, CHI Member 

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