This is the third and final story in a series on mental health. The first two stories appeared in the May 5 and May 19 issues of The Visitor.
The parish cluster of St. Francis de Sales in Belgrade, St. Donatus in Brooten and Sts. Peter and Paul in Elrosa has partnered with schools, law enforcement and other community members to increase awareness about mental health.
The effort began in 2016, when members of the BBE parishes — as they call themselves — participated in the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative led by JoAnn Braegelman. She serves as Catholic Charities’ rural life coordinator for the western region of the diocese.
This training helps develop leaders by educating them in parish social ministry and Catholic social teaching.
Braegelman invited Colleen Borgerding, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul in Elrosa, to be part of the initiative. The two had met when Braegelman worked in youth ministry at the parishes and Borgerding was in her youth group. Borgerding later attended St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, where she studied youth ministry and participated in service trips.
“My heart has always been drawn to serving people on the margins, people who are need, whether it’s love or food or physical help,” Borgerding said.
“In college, I experienced seeing different groups of people and figuring out what their needs were and just trying to help in any way I could. That really spoke to me,” she said.
She also learned more about Catholic social teaching.
“Catholic social teaching blew my mind. I felt it was one of the best-kept secrets of our faith. That teaching really formed my heart a lot to serve others, to see we are all created with the same dignity, to know that you don’t have to earn it, it’s already given to you by God.”
So when Braegelman approached her to be part of the initiative, Borgerding said it was a good fit. After completing the cohort, which included members of several parishes on the western side of the diocese, the BBE parishes formed a small group of four including Borgerding, Christy Kallevig, Donna Herichkoff, and Judy Detloff. They came up with the name, “BBE Neighbors in Christ,” to continue the mission in their community.
“We wanted a name that encompassed the whole community because what we are doing is bigger than just our parishes. And we wanted to have a word in the title that reflects our Christianity because all of this is rooted in our faith,” Borgerding said.
One of the last pieces of the training includes a parish input session that brings the people of the parish and community together to hear the concerns of the community.
“One of the things that stood out for me with this particular input session was the number of people in attendance and the community roles they represented, including local law enforcement, [staff and leaders] from the BBE school and many other concerned community members,” Braegelman said.
“While there were a variety of issues that surfaced, what stood out most clearly was that, like every other community, there was most definitely a concern with mental [health] issues at all levels of the population,” she said. “Their greatest concern was that it was affecting our young people by impeding their ability to learn in school, having enough food to eat or being able to take advantage of other learning opportunities. They also discussed the cyclical nature of the issue and how that might be changed for the better.”
BBE Neighbors in Christ set out to work on coordinating three community-wide education nights featuring local experts on the topics of mental health, addiction, and depression and anxiety.
“When we first started talking about this, I was feeling anxious about it because it is such a big topic. But things happened. They just fell into place. God was weaving it all together,” Borgerding said.
Braegelman agreed. Shortly after an input session, she met with the group to help them put together a strategic plan for short-term and long-term goals as a parish social ministry team.
“They wanted to tackle the mental health issue right away,” she said. “I questioned the wisdom of this choice knowing that mental illness is a huge problem that could quickly become overwhelming and lead to team burnout or members dropping out. I felt they should choose a smaller project and work up to this bigger issue. They were very adamant though and set the wheels in motion for how they would start with a series of community awareness events. I know this was the Holy Spirit in action.”
Borgerding was pleased with the attendance at each of the three events — an average of about 65 attendees at each session.
“To have teachers, parents and other adults who work with kids learning about signs and symptoms of mental health and learning how or when to interact in certain situations is exciting,” she said. “I think it’s been good for the community. People are starting to talk about mental health and that’s the first step.”
Borgerding knows firsthand some of the stigmas around those suffering with mental health issues. Her older brother, Travis, struggled with depression and substance abuse before tragically taking his life in 2012.
“I know how big and complicated mental health is and that was part of my hesitance of taking it on. It’s so big and so hard. I felt like I knew about depression, but after watching my brother struggle and after these few months learning so much more about it, it just makes me realize how big of a struggle that was for him.”
Having that knowledge drives her to continue to help others learn more about mental health and other issues people in the community might be facing and she is relying on the help of others in the community to make that happen.
That includes Josie Dingmann, who is the community education director for the Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa school district.
“We wanted to partner with BBE Neighbors in Christ because we want to be a bridge between the school and the greater community. One of our goals is to provide education for the whole area, for all community members. We have parents and families in the community and we want to bring the education to them about mental health,” Dingmann said.
She also feels its important to educate students about mental health issues.
“It’s a prime opportunity to educate our youth and provide them with awareness about what the symptoms are so they can be aware if they need help or someone they know needs help,” she said.
“By having these opportunities, the word is getting out. People are feeling that they want to know how to support their neighbors and family members who might be suffering, and it’s very evident that we can do so much more with a team. When we work together great things can happen.”
Borgerding is excited about the strides the communities have made in bringing about awareness on topics of mental health. But she also knows there’s a lot more work ahead.
Through the initial input session, they identified other issues in the community such as isolation and loneliness, transportation, and care for the aging and elderly. The group will work together with the school and community on a three-part series covering additional community concerns again in the fall.
“The group that has formed in BBE is a perfect example of how the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative should work and evolve,” Braegelman said.
“First, they were able to organize a cross section of the communities in order to assess the needs.
“Second, they provided leadership to help in identifying and naming local issues and concerns,” she continued. “Finally, they have been finding ways to address the issues and provide means to implement solutions. All of this is possible because of the training they received and their willingness to discern and allow the Spirit to work through them.”