By Arvind Sooknanan
Before I became a member of Fountain House Bronx, I did not have anyone to talk about mental illness with. If you told me a year ago that I not only would have an incredible community of support and people to share my experiences with, but that I would also be meeting elected officials and advocating for others with the same mental health struggles, I’d call you crazy!
In the six years since opening its doors, Fountain House Bronx has solidified its role as a key community partner. Being a part of that journey has been nothing short of incredible. Back in February, we had the opportunity to be an integral part of the New York Association of Psycho-Rehabilitative Services (NYAPRS) annual Legislative Day in Albany. We represented Fountain House Bronx as champions of mental health and low-income communities of color. Our team of ambassadors spoke defiantly against stigma and advocated for more resources for mental health services. We also met with the chief staffers for New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and New York State Senator Jose Serrano. However, our community outreach did not stop there.
Following our trip to Albany, we were granted the chance to meet New York City District 8 Councilwoman Diana Ayala, who is also the Chairperson on the New York City Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addictions. We introduced our role as mental health advocates for persons with serious mental illness, and discussed our goals for our new location (projected to open in Summer 2021). Councilwoman Ayala commended us for our ongoing empowerment and guaranteed support in strengthening our position in the Bronx community.
(Pictured: Arvind Sooknanan, Nicholas Becerra and Michelle Rodriguez of Fountain House Bronx with New York City District 8 Councilwoman Diana Ayala)
Professionally, my position as a member at Fountain House Bronx and an advocate for people with mental illness has opened countless doors and given me the voice that I didn’t think I had. I now collaborate with the New York State Office for New Americans to assist with connecting migrants from the Caribbean to resources, and have ambitions to complete my degree, attend law school, and become a public servant. These opportunities inspired me to feel like I can do something, I can help, not that I just need to be helped.
Fountain House Bronx is rapidly growing, and with its growth comes the impact on the greater community. With a diverse clubhouse body, made up of people from unique backgrounds and stories, we have reached (and continue to reach) more and more individuals, who might not have previously had options or resources. The number of members pursuing education and employment has increased dramatically, and to be an example of that has been empowering. The individuals of Fountain House Bronx are on the rise, and right behind them is the entire clubhouse.