Tag Archives: Chinese Health Initiative

Extraordinary Everyday Heroes Look Like Me, and You

The May 23, 2023’s Board of Supervisors meeting was full of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) representation, including multiple appearances by our Health Equity Initiatives (HEI’s) across the agenda to spotlight Proclamations for:

As a new Senior Community Program Specialist in the County, there were breath-taking moments that gave me hope in our democracy by seeing everyday heroes in action—and they look like me, and you!

Beginning with an act of solidarity, Supervisor Ray Mueller addressed a public comment that conflated COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” by holding accountability immediately and centering all of our humanity, including the community member who said it. As the meeting went on, HEI Chinese Health Initiative co-chair Alyson Suzuki, offered a concise, authentic message leveraging her perspective as an Asian American parent. Simply put, she said “words matter,” to further demonstrate the impact of the racist remark. It was a chilling moment.

Notably, another HEI Pride Initiative co-chair Dana Johnson (they/them), shared two public comments as someone who lives an intersectional life as a Black transgender non-binary activist. They called specifically for the Board to consider actions that would move beyond Proclamations.

Co-presenting with the BHRS Director Dr. Jei Africa, my teammate and Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator and Pacific Islander Initiative member Twila Dependahl stood in her power as she spoke of the hard work that HEI’s are doing in our communities. The preparation for this presentation took immense collaborative efforts with Community Health Planner Sylvia Tang generously sharing her wisdom, leadership, and support that was behind the scene yet still so critical.

On the other side of the room, there were beautiful exchanges of support and encouragement. For example, with genuine care and joy, Supervisor David Canepa elevated another HEI Filipino Mental Health Initiative co-chair Stephanie Balon, who embodies kapwa (Tagalog for “togetherness/shared self”). Throughout the meeting, Supervisor Noelia Corzo offered gratitude to community members for sharing their stories.

Shortly afterwards, I talked with another HEI African American Community Initiative co-chair, Delicia “Dee” Pennix who attended the meeting in person for the Juneteenth Proclamation and we shared mutual feelings of excitement for our work, for the connections we are making, and for what’s ahead in our communities.

We are all extraordinary, everyday heroes.

You can learn how you can get involved with our Health Equity Initiative Co-Chairs by visiting http://smchealth.org/hei.

Written by Kayla Tolentino (she/her), BHRS Office of Diversity & Equity

Meet Our New Chinese Health Initiative Co-Chairs!

The Chinese Health Initiative (CHI) welcomes Jessie Ren and Alyson Suzuki as their new co-chairs. The Chinese Health Initiative, created by Behavioral Health & Recovery Services’ Office of Diversity & Equity, was created in 2007 as a way to join people together who are interested in working to improve the health and well being of our Chinese community. Together, they advocate for culturally appropriate services, educate the community about different health issues and services available, and work with the community to increase outreach.

About the Co-Chairs:

Jessie Ren (she/her) grew up in China and came to the Bay Area in 2003. She has been working with the San Mateo County Department of Health as a Benefit Analyst for the past 11 years and has helped many families enroll in a multitude of government health programs. Jessie is passionate about bringing resources and her professional knowledge to those in need, more specifically, vulnerable as well as underserved populations. She is also a Certified English and Mandarin Medical Interpreter. Jessie’s work deeply involves her in the Chinese community where having the good fortune of being able to speak Mandarin, Shanghainese and Cantonese is helpful. She also enjoys working with other community leaders to organize and facilitate community events. Past successful events include an annual Chinese New Year Gala serving the peninsula, Health Insurance & Immigration Forum, Bay Area Ballroom Club dance parties, as well as an Anti-Asian Hate Rally in San Jose. 

For leisure, Jessie loves dancing, musicals, meditation and traveling with her family.  She enjoy learning about different cultures and trying all types of food, and her dream is to travel around the world one day. 

As a longtime member of Chinese Health Initiative (CHI), it will be her honor and privilege to serve as a Co-Chair. Jessie looks forward to helping raise mental health awareness and to improve the well-being of our Chinese community.

Alyson Suzuki (she/her) is from New York City (NYC) and worked to serve low-income families in the greater NYC area before moving to the Bay Area in 2000.  Her work focuses on providing educational opportunities and culturally appropriate support to immigrant and low-income families and children.  She has over 25 years of experience leading complex organizations, advocating for systemic change and delivering quality services to underserved communities.  In addition to her professional experience, Alyson has also served on the boards of the YMCA of San Francisco and Marin, and Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS). She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Strategic Human Resources Management.  Alyson was a recipient and honoree of the California Governor’s Scholarship for Women in Public Service, a graduate of the Redwood City- San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Program, a member of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute and the San Mateo County API Caucus.  

Alyson is the Founder and CEO of Unitedly. Unitedly’s mission is to ensure that Asian families and communities have equitable access to resources and opportunities to thrive. Raised in a low-income household by Chinese immigrant parents, Alyson knows first-hand the importance of resources, access and community support.  Through her experiences, Alyson understands the impact of societal inequities and strongly believes in enabling all families to have a voice.  As the founder of Unitedly, Alyson’s vision is to create a central agency dedicated to supporting underserved families, so that they have equal opportunities to be successful.

Learn more about Chinese Health Initiative at SMCHealth.org/CHI.

Xenophobia Response Tips Resource Cards

Xenophobia is the fear and hatred of strangers, foreigners or of anything that is perceived as strange or foreign. Under Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), there are increased incidents of microaggressions, racial profiling, hate crimes in Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. Here are a few tips on how you can respond to xenophobic offenses.

Credit: Chinese Health Initative

For more information, you may contact Chinese Health Initiative at CHI@smcgov.org.

For the full Health Equity Initiative meeting schedule (including virtual meeting links) visit here.

Chinese Health Initiative’s New Meeting Schedule

Next Chinese Health Initiative (CHI) meeting is on Friday, November 2nd from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in Room 201 at 2000 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo.

Starting November, CHI meets the 1st Fridays of the month 1:30 p.m.- 3:00 p.m. in Room 201 at 2000 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo. Our December meeting is scheduled for Friday, December 7th, same time and location. 

For the most up-to-date information, please contact the CHI Co-Chairs Shiyu Zhang and Winnie Wu at CHI@smcgov.org.

August 24 – 2nd Annual Mental Health Open Mic at Philz


On Friday, August 24th, please join us for the 2nd Annual Mental Health Open Mic at Philz in Westborough Square. 

First 50 to register via eventbrite will receive a free coffee that evening! 

We hope to see you there, and we especially hope to hear you speak at our open mic!

Know the signs, find the words, and reach out. Break the silence. 


Facebook event link can be found here. 

This event is hosted by Supervisor Canepa, District 5, The Office of Diversity and Equity, Pacific Islander Initiative, Filipino Mental Health Initiative, and Chinese Health Initiative

Theatre of the Oppressed: Workshop Brings Diverse Staff Together to Explore Oppression in Everyday Lives

During Mental Health Awareness Month, the Community Health Promotion Unit hosted a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop to build awareness – through an embodied, experiential and participatory process – around root causes of health disparities. Participants explored the interwoven nature of trauma and oppression, exposing systems of oppression that perpetuate inequities along racial, ethnic, gender and socio-economic lines. Through story and theatre, participants explored their own awareness of power, privilege and oppression that exists around them as well as counter-oppressive solutions to implement in prevention and community work.

Native and Indigenous Peoples Initiative (NIPI) Co-Chair, Gloria Gutierrez, participated in the workshop describing it as a space for participants

“To express [themselves] void of judgement. As an individual that has been dedicated to learn about other cultures and communities I found [it] incredibly valuable. I would definitely recommend this training to my colleagues and community members as is teaches us a different approach to handle difficult issues.”

Another participant, Sylvia Tang, Co-Chair for the Chinese Health Initiative reflected,

“The training inspired me to think more deeply about the oppressive and liberating features of our Chinese culture that I have experienced. Hierarchy/compliance can be oppressive on the one hand but the fire for family unity/well-being can be liberating on the other hand. While many assume Chinese may quiet and compliant, there are many examples where Chinese-Americans have resisted and fought for the rights of our family’s well-being, including fighting for basic educational and legal rights during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act.”

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


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!

Event Flyer

Written by Kristie Lui, CHI Member 

Mental Health Awareness Poetry Slam at Philz Coffee

The room was filled with a standing audience at the first Mental Health Awareness Poetry Slam at Philz Coffee in Westborough on Friday, November 17 6:00-8:00PM.  District 5 Supervisor David Canepa, the Office of Diversity and Equity’s Filipino Mental Health Initiative (FHMI) and Chinese Health Initiative (CHI) hosted this event and plan to host more on an ongoing basis. There were youth and adults who shared their poems and many shared very personal lived experience with mental health, addiction and suicidal ideation. The room was filled with not only people but courage from the poets and support from the audience.

Written by Sylvia Tang, Co-Chair of Suicide Prevention Committee

Learn more about suicide prevention at: smchealth.org/suicide-prevention

CHI’s First Health Care Rights And Immigration Forum For The Chinese Community

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Chinese Health Initiative (CHI) hosted its first Health Care Rights and Immigration Forum for the Chinese Community at Millbrae Library on Saturday, October 14th, 2017. There was a huge turnout, with more than 80 individuals attending in-person, along with over 250+ views from our Facebook live recording of the presentation. Of the attendees, we had 27 representatives, from 13 local community agencies, tabling at the Resource Fair. CHI was also recognized by Board of Supervisor David Canepa and by Chief of Staff from Supervisor Dave Pine’s office for our work in hosting the forum for the Chinese Community.

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Chinese Outreach Pilot Program Makes a Positive Impact

While Chinese make up 11% of the San Mateo County population, only 2% of BHRS clients are Chinese.  In 2013, the Chinese Health Initiative (CHI) of the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) documented their findings of under-utilization of behavioral health services by Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans and in June 2014, with Mental Health Services Act funding, successfully launched the Chinese Outreach Pilot Program.

The Chinese Outreach Pilot Program’s primary goal is to link individuals and families in need to appropriate behavioral health resources and further document the behavioral healthcare gaps and needs of the Chinese community. A part-time bilingual Outreach Worker was hired to provide outreach, linkage and warm hand-off.


“…the community needs more culturally and linguistically competent outreach workers to help overcome the barriers for this population to take advantage of mental health services. If these fledgling programs cease we will continue to see a lack of usage of those services until it’s too late in the cycle. It’s great to see the pilot program and we should continue and expand on the success of that program.” – community member

Chinese Outreach Pilot Program Successes To-Date

(June 2014 – April 2015)

  • 9 targeted language and culturally appropriate outreach materials created
  • 27 outreach and education events at community organizations and health fairs
  • 10 formal seminars or presentations conducted
  • 6 strategic partnerships to better serve and link Chinese clients to services
  • 42 Chinese clients and their families linked to behavioral health services

(January 2016 – June 2016)

  • 2 strategic partnerships to better serve and link Chinese clients to services (a strong screening and referral system in primary care clinics and effective linking through the BHRS Access center)
  • 4  outreach and education events to public high schools
  • 23 monolingual Chinese seniors provided mental wellness screening
  • 21 community based agencies reached and developed partnerships
  • 12 Chinese clients and their families linked to behavioral health services


The Chinese Outreach Pilot Program has demonstrated a need for increased outreach and services for the Chinese community; so much so that the initial outreach worker was hired by a local health agency which provided the majority of referrals to BHRS.   In January 2016, a new Outreach Worker was hired to continue the work.  While there are systemic and resources challenges still to be addressed, we are hopeful that the Outreach Worker model will continue to sustain the successful efforts and partnerships developed and even be replicated to support other underserved communities in San Mateo County.

To view the full reports, please visit the ODE website at www.smchealth.org/bhrs/ode.

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