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Panelists discuss Duluth resources for mental health, homelessness, community gardens

Duluth News-Tribune - 10/31/2023

Oct. 31—DULUTH — Bridging Health Duluth hosted the "Conversations Around a Healthier Community" event at the Clyde Iron Works Malting Building on Oct. 25. Attendees had the opportunity to network and learn about various community health organizations.

Representatives from organizations across Duluth spoke about the work they've done over the past year and shared what's ahead in 2024 surrounding food security, housing, substance use, mental health and social well-being.

Panelists included Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northland Director of Operations Emily Burnside, Health Equity Northland St. Mark Giving Garden lead Carla Hamilton, Stepping On Up project organizer Joel Kilgour and Recovery Alliance Duluth Executive Director Jenny Swanson.

Zeitgeist Center for Arts and Community Executive Director Tony Cuneo served as the moderator. The annual event is free and open to the public.

Stepping On Up

is a multi-agency collaborative working to address chronic and long-term homelessness.

Kilgour has a 27-year history

of advocacy and direct service related to homelessness and affordable housing through organizations such as Loaves and Fishes, Chum and the Duluth Affordable Housing Coalition.

Recovery Alliance Duluth

is an organization providing peer recovery services to northeast Minnesota. Swanson's role focuses on building recovery-oriented systems of care.

With a background in social work, Burnside has been instrumental in developing and supervising the Boys & Girls Clubs Mental Health Access Program, which aims to reduce the stigma of youth mental health and connect families with resources.

Since the inception of the Mental Health Access Program in 2019, Burnside noted the organization has put a more intentional emphasis on the mental and social health of its members by introducing social-emotional learning activities, professional mental health supports, training staff in trauma-informed practices and connecting youth with out-patient services.

"Over the past year, we have strengthened our partnership with mental health serving agencies as well as local colleges and universities through our mental health internship program and have hired a full-time behavioral health coordinator to oversee the services and supports we provide to our members," Burnside said.

The St. Mark Giving Garden's summer-long youth program builds on gardening and community connection, as well as cultural and justice components of growing food with a focus on African heritage. Hamilton works as the lead gardener on the 800-square-foot communal gardening project.

Hamilton highlighted the program's significant growth in community support and organizational partnerships in the past three years.

"Just last year, we were able to harvest, prep and deliver 5,000 pounds of produce throughout the Duluth-Superior community," Hamilton said. "This year, we hand-delivered 71 certificates to thank all those who have graciously provided time and effort within the garden space."

The garden is beginning strategic plans for moving into a larger space. It is collaborating with the city to widen its community engagement, with continued design support from the University of Minnesota Engineers Without Borders to guide the organization into its Phase II project, which was recently approved by the Duluth Parks and Recreation Commission.

"This future plan would provide our community with 12,000 square feet of garden space. As of now, we are working with 800 square feet," Hamilton said. "We believe this opportunity to expand could produce approximately 20,000 pounds of produce for our community members."

Health Equity Northland

will continue to provide staff and community members with cultural programming and professional development opportunities in the garden for both youth and intern garden staff, including lead gardening staff, to continue to build professional leadership in our programming and community connection.

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(c)2023 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

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