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Notes from the Ground

Reaching the Community: Support and Information by Radio in St. Cloud

Published December 17, 2021
Art of two women, one is crying while the other holds her.

The topic of mental health can be complex and challenging, so CVT is always looking for ways to share information that is helpful, while also making it easy to access. The clinical team in St. Cloud, Minnesota, has developed programs to share information about mental health care and support through a number of methods, including clinical work, training, outreach and education programs. As a team serving the Somali community, and the survivors of torture among them, it’s important to use a variety of methods to bring care and information to as many people as possible. And as the COVID pandemic brought a halt to in-person sessions, the team got creative about outreach.

One of the larger initiatives for CVT St. Cloud was a series of parenting classes, which were conducted in person. “But ever since the COVID pandemic,” said Mathar Abdullahi, bilingual community educator for St. Cloud, “we can’t do our in-person sessions. We need to be sure we consider the safety of the parents and our staff. However, we still want to reach the community and the parents.”

The team took a look at the needs of the community and of clients who have survived torture. Many are from Somalia, and Mathar noted, “Mostly refugees and immigrants from Somalia as well as countries including Sudan and Congo.” To reach these communities, the team wanted to have important information that they could deliver to as many people as possible, in the language that people need.

They turned to St. Cloud Somali Community Radio, which broadcasts locally, in Somali. People go straight to the website or FM radio for all information that impacts the Somali community,” Mathar said. He mentioned that radio played a particularly key role in dissemination of information to the community when COVID arrived, helping people understand the risks and the methods to use to help prevent spread of the virus.

In addition, the radio station is used by a number of organizations that need to reach the community. “Many of the people we serve don’t have all the technology or equipment to receive instant information,” Mathar said. “But they turn on the radio while they’re driving. This station was the main source of information as the pandemic arrived, whether that was from the city, the school district, the police department, or others.”

So the team worked with the radio station to begin sharing information on air. They looked at a number of topics of interest to the community, including the curriculum they had been using for parenting classes, including topics like parental roles in the United States, communicating with children, and creating success at school. The team works with a radio host to prerecord interviews, which are then edited and put on air. Each segment runs for about two weeks at varying times of day.

“The radio segments have been a good way to provide support, and a way for the community to get information and learn about many different ways to access care,” said Kathleen O’Donnell Burrows, MSW, LICSW, program manager for Healing Hearts and St. Cloud. “Mental health care and these kinds of services are not as accessible to everyone in the community,” she said. “So we try to help eliminate some of the barriers to information.”

As the radio initiative has continued, the team has been able to quickly assess when specific information is needed and adjust their message to address current issues. Recently, after a tragic death of a child, questions arose about postpartum depression and challenges faced by mothers. The team assessed the situation and adapted information to share about signs of depression, things that can happen, and ways to cope when people are struggling.

“The recent tragedy in St. Cloud put in perspective the CVT role and framework, which continues to be committed to humanizing the experiences of the communities who suffered traumatic /war-related trauma by dehumanizing the past trauma/lack of connection through education, encouragement and collectiveness healing,” said Amal Hassan, external community development & education coordinator for CVT St. Cloud. She noted how the radio segments they made in response to the tragedy focused on providing psychoeducation about postpartum and preventive approaches including local resources, normalization and validation of postpartum anxiety and mood disorder.

“Each community experiences this awful event their own way,” Amal said. “They grieve at their own pace and that often becomes part of the healing process.”

In addition, the team has received feedback that its information about parenting rights in the United States has been very well received. “Most people in the community are immigrants or had parents come here from another country, another culture. They arrive and immediately have to begin to adapt,” Mathar said. “And many parents think they don’t have rights in America. They don’t know their role here. So it’s very important to teach them about their rights and how the system works in the United States.”

Mathar noted that in Somalia, children are parented by many people. Adults step in in ways that are not part of the American culture. “Everyone was a parent to every child in Somalia,” he said. But here it’s different. So the team teaches methods of working with children where discipline takes the form of consequences: perhaps taking away a tablet or cellphone. “Parents told us that before if they took the tablet away and the child called 911, it was very difficult. They didn’t know the language, they couldn’t talk to the police and describe what was going on,” Mathar said. “They didn’t know how system works, so our classes were very beneficial to them.”

The team has received positive feedback about the radio segments, and as Mathar noted, using the radio to broadcast information has shown again and again to be an effective way to reach many people in the community. “These are people I can’t reach,” Mathar said. “Doing radio is a great experience.”

And Amal mentioned that the team has plans for new radio segments next year, including co-hosting radio conversations with local law enforcement, with a children’s clinic in St. Cloud, and more. “Our goal for 2022 and beyond is to create a space where local providers/institutions in Central Minnesota can come together to create a place of healing, provide support, and bring more awareness about the effects of mental health,” she said.

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