/ April 6, 2021

Connections to Care – Mental Health Integration in Community-Based Organizations: Bringing social work to the park

When COVID-19 first hit Brooklyn’s Red Hook community in March, Florie St. Aime found new ways to reach her neighbors with help and support.

Every Wednesday Florie, a Clinical Social Work Manager at the Red Hook Initiative (RHI), brought a table to Coffey Park. There, she and her counseling team sat and talked with community members about the challenges they were experiencing during the pandemic. Equipped with flyers and stress balls, and willing to chat with anyone who was struggling with anxiety or loss, Florie was there to provide immediate support and connection to ongoing services. The weekly event – called “Social Workers in the Park” – immediately proved to be a safe and effective way of being there for the Red Hook community. The initiative continues now every week at RHI Farms.

“Florie always takes initiative,” said Ericka Medina, Senior Director of Programs at the Red Hook Initiative. “She pushes her vision forward to make it a reality. She’s inspiring.”

This is not the first time RHI has helped its neighbors pull together in a crisis. The organization has built strong ties with the Red Hook community through youth development programs, community organizing initiatives, and local hiring. When Hurricane Sandy devastated Red Hook in 2012, RHI’s deep community roots helped it become a hub for relief and rebuilding work. Today, RHI is once again helping Red Hook weather a disaster, coordinating a local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A native Brooklynite, Florie plays an important role in this work, helping Red Hook residents get the mental health support they need through an organization they trust. That’s what the Connections to Care program is all about – embedding mental health capacity in community-based organizations to reach more people, right in their neighborhoods.

Florie trains her colleagues to integrate mental health approaches into their day-to-day interactions with clients, which have become increasingly important this year. And to ensure that Red Hook residents have access to trauma-informed mental health support in this difficult time, Florie continues to embrace new approaches – whether it’s providing tele-mental health services, launching an acupuncture healing initiative, or tabling at the park. She remains committed to doing everything she can to support the well-being of her neighbors.

“Florie looks at the individual as a family member or community member,” said Ericka Medina, Senior Director of Programs at Red Hook Initiative. “She asks—how does this person heal?”

From Florie:
“I root my work in naming and blaming social constructs instead of individuals; encouraging healing and self-care as resistance; and reintroducing human connection and acts of love as radical action.”


Community mental health program: Connections to Care: Mental Health Integration in Community-Based Organizations

ThriveNYC partners with the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity to integrate mental health support into the work of community-based organizations (CBOs) serving at-risk and low-income communities across the City. Through Connections to Care, CBO partners work with mental health providers who train and coach staff to screen their clients for mental health needs, offer direct support when appropriate, and link to local health providers for further care if needed. The program is operated in partnership with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, with additional funding through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and other private funders. Nearly 2,000 community-based staff have been trained through the program, and more than 46,000 New Yorkers have received screening or other services. More than 80 percent of clients referred to mental health services at the height of the pandemic (April through June 2020) kept their appointment.