BHEC Member Spotlight: Marie Hafner
AmeriCorps VISTA member Marie Hafner joined the Behavioral Health Equity Corps (BHEC) in October of 2020. She is currently serving at Envision:You in Denver. She was kind enough to answer some questions about herself and the work she has done as part of the program.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Iowa, in the Quad Cities. I attended the University of Iowa and received my bachelor’s in psychology. I originally wanted to pursue psychiatry, but learned through school and work experience that I was more interested in the counseling and social work side of things.
After graduating college, I worked at a place called Systems Unlimited. I was a group home supervisor helping to support individuals with developmental disabilities.
What I would like to do, and what I am interested in, is counseling. I would like to go back to school and get my master’s in clinical mental health counseling.
I was going to go back to school this year, but COVID threw a wrench in that. I found BHEC because I was looking for opportunities to support members of the LGBTQ+ community.
As part of the community, I see the behavioral health disparities and it is really important we address these pressing needs in the community. I found that the BHEC program had a LGBTQ+ component and was introduced to my host site, Envision:You.
How did you get into volunteering?
When I was in college, I volunteered for the local crisis center. I was working on the hotline, which was connected to the national suicide hotline. Sometimes it was intense, and I had to go through extensive training. I learned a lot, and it was the first time I learned crisis response skills. I always thought I was a good listener but that was the first time I got trained in mental health first aid. I also volunteered in a rotary club in high school and with a baseball team that worked with individuals with disabilities.
What do you most enjoy in your free time?
One of the ways I enjoy spending time with friends is playing Dungeons & Dragons. When COVID hit, the number of games I was in actually went up with everyone playing virtually. I love that, and I also love reading. Another one of the reasons I was excited to move to Colorado is I love the outdoors and the mountains, and I am excited to get more involved with hiking.
What advice would you give people considering going into service?
I think the obvious thing is that when you help other people you are putting good out in the world, and it is also personally fulfilling. In my experience, my volunteer work has been a personal growth opportunity. I have always learned something about myself and other people while serving. It gives you the opportunity to learn and engage more with experiences different from your own. The more experiences you have with the world it can only enrich your life, and ultimately make you a better person.
If you could visit one place, anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I have always really wanted to go on the Lord of the Rings tour in New Zealand. It is objectively beautiful, with the side benefit of I also love Lord of the Rings. I have also always wanted to go to Iceland.
What is one item you cannot live without?
The digital connection, especially with COVID. It would be really hard to not have that ability to connect with the important people in my life. Also, my extended edition box set of the Lord of the Rings movies.
What is your favorite hobby?
Reading and knitting. I just read The Power by Naomi Alderman. The last thing I knitted was a little Weasley Sweater (from Harry Potter) as a Christmas ornament. It was fun and cute!
What would you like the world to know about you and your work?
The whole world could benefit from empathy. It is a trait I value in myself and it is important, which is the reason I enjoy the work with BHEC.
I camped on the Great Wall of China, my friend and I visited China three-ish years ago. We went in a tour group that had a permit that allowed us to camp overnight on top of the wall. I love traveling, and I miss doing it due to COVID. But one day soon!
Tell us about your host site.
Envision:You was created to support, educate, and empower members of the Colorado LGBTQ+ community that are living with mental health and or substance misuse challenges. We do not provide direct service, but all of our programming is built around that idea. All our programs are created around our four pillars. The four pillars are to educate the community and reduce stigma, enhance resources available to the community, engage in recovery as a lifelong process, and expand training for those offering behavioral health services.
How do you, as a BHEC member, fit into their vision of supporting communities?
Part of BHEC is educating people and reducing stigma. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are six times as likely to suffer from a substance use disorder and twice as likely from a mental health disorder.
I am personally very involved with their Behavioral Health Provider Training Program, which is a training aimed at behavioral health providers on the unique behavioral health considerations of the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the reasons we started doing the Behavioral Health Provider Training Program, is there are not really a lot of similar programs out there. The thing we really focused on was making it intersectional, recognizing that the LGBTQ+ community is diverse, and members can often hold multiple marginalized identities outside of just being queer, and how that can impact their behavioral health.
What impact do you feel these projects/programs will have on the community?
I’ve already touched on how the LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately impacted by behavioral health concerns, there is a demonstrable need for support, and unfortunately the resources and the knowledge to provide that aren’t really where they need to be. These programs all aim to improve behavioral health outcomes for the LGBTQ+ community obviously. Where I really feel like Envision:You stands apart is that all of its programs are community informed. They make it a priority to get feedback directly from the people they serve on what their needs are and then shape programming around that. They also make a concerted effort to reach areas that are very underserved, like more rural areas.
Tell us about the support you receive from your host site.
Envision:You has such a supportive work culture, and I say that having worked at places that say they do and in reality don’t. Self-care is emphasized and actively encouraged. As a small but growing organization, it’s totally possible to know everyone, and knowing people have your back if you need help is very encouraging.
What would you like to gain from service at this host site?
I’ve already gained so much from my service. I’ve learned a lot about how non-profits function, and have gained skills in program management. I find the work fulfilling, and I’ve met so many wonderful people driven by the desire to help their community. I just want to continue to learn and grow from these experiences.
What is the most rewarding aspect/proudest accomplishment of your work/position?
I’m supporting my community and doing work that will make things better. While service is not easy, it’s a lot easier when you’re doing work that matters and makes a difference.