G.O.A.T. Mental Health Expo

VOACC Hosts Inaugural Mental Health Expo Targeting Youth in Prince George's County

Contact: Nicholle Granger

May 16, 2022 Lanham, MD

On May 24th, our country was shaken by yet another horrific school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX. According to reports, the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was known to be a loner who was often bullied for a childhood speech impediment, suffered from a difficult home life and lashed out violently against his peers and others. Salvador committed a heinous act that took the lives of nineteen children and two teachers. His story, like so many others, is just one example of the mental health crisis that has been growing among our youth.

Especially within underserved and at-risk communities, the pandemic has only made it more likely for youth to experience anxiety, depression and suicide ideation. The worsening trends in youth mental health are so concerning that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a National Emergency in Children’s Mental Health in 2021.

Recognizing that our young people need us now more than ever, we banded together with the Prince George’s County Department of Health’s Step Forward Program and the Bowie State University Graduate Student Association to host our inaugural Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.) Mental Health Expo on Saturday, May 14th. Hosted on Bowie State University’s campus, the G.O.A.T. Expo brought together youth, families, caregivers, health providers, musical artists and youth advocates to put on an event dedicated to promoting the health and wellbeing of transition aged youth (ages 15 – 24).

“Since the pandemic has been growing, you see an increase in depression and anxiety amongst our young people. And so we see that there is a pandemic within a pandemic.”

Dr. Sheryl Neverson, Vice President of Maryland Programs, VOA Chesapeake & Carolinas

A total of 300 people attended the expo, including representatives from exhibiting health providers like our VOA Hope Center, youth and families, and musical artists and youth advocates. We can’t thank the community enough for helping to elevate the need for greater access to care and resources our youth need to overcome trauma and thrive. More than 40 health providers exhibited at the expo including this year’s sponsors Sheppard Pratt; Maryland Family Resources, Inc.; August Rose Health Center; Choice Community Health; Empowering Minds Resource Center; National Alliance on Mental Illness Prince George’s County; MISO Medical; Maryland Coalition of Families; and Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Inc. With their support, we welcome and engaged over 80 youth and adults throughout the day. We also had 20 entertainers, musical artists and spoken word artists perform throughout the day.

In the morning, opening remarks were made by Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Bowie State University President Dr. Aminta Breaux, Prince George’s County Health Department’s Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter, and our President & CEO Russell Snyder.

“This year for our mental health expo we’ve partnered with Volunteers of America, Bowie State University, and the Bowie State University Graduate School Association so we can make sure our young people know it’s ok to talk about [mental health] no matter what. Unfortunately, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. Seventy-five percent of all mental illness develop by the age of 24. That’s why it is so critical for young people to understand that mental health is serious and it’s good to ask for help when we’re feeling down.”

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks

In addition to accessing local providers, guests had the opportunity to attend onsite workshops where they learned about different areas of mental health and best practices for overcoming health stigma. Topics covered include Preserving the Mental Health of Black Males, Mindfulness & Wellness Techniques, The Trauma of Suicide and Grief/loss among Adolescents, Mental Health First Aid & Identifying Mental Health Distress, and The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health.

The expo also served as a platform for youth to share their thoughts and experiences with trauma and mental health challenges. Black youth including 2021 Miss Prince George’s County, Lauren Williams; Prince George’s County Community College student, Het Heru Aamen; 2022 Prince George’s County Youth Poet Laureate, Imani Grace West; and others spoke as panelists in mental health discussions. Imani Grace West also performed several spoken word poems highlighting the impact social pressures can have on the development of unhealthy and destructive habits among youth.

To learn more about The G.O.A.T. Expo, visit goatexpo.com.

For questions about sponsorships, becoming an exhibitor or other ways to get involved in 2023, contact us contactus@voaches.org.

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