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"Trauma is their life," says Sunlight Village Executive Director, Robbie Brandon

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Sunlight Village
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Robbie Brandon

The mission of Sunlight Village is to provide comprehensive youth and family-focused mental health services that promote healthy communities.

Sunlight Village in West Dayton was founded with the mission to improve the mental health and well-being of local youth and young adults. Robbie Brandon is the founder and executive director. In this interview with WYSO, she says the organization uses a holistic approach, partnering with other local, state and federal agencies to address what can seem like insurmountable challenges to young people.

Robbie Brandon: Trauma is their life. And someone said to me the other day, when you wake up in the morning, what's the first thing you think about? You know, I might wake up in the morning and think, hey, I'm cup of coffee or, you know, let me grab my book and my computer so I can get ready to go to work or, you know, good morning to my loved ones. But someone who lives in a community that's riddled with violence and poverty and lack of resources, their thoughts are, how am I going to eat today? How am I to get to my appointment? Or, you know, I lost a loved one, I'm sad. So, there's a lot of things that we don't think about if we're not experiencing those traumas or those lived experiences.

So, we focus on how can we put opportunities in place to give these kids who struggle with their environment, their community, their lack of resources, their history, their current family, living situations? How can we provide opportunity? So, we do a program, like I had mentioned before, with Montgomery County Juvenile Court. It's called Connections for Success Youth Leadership Program. And we partner with the Marketplace Movement Church, and we have a four day a week program from 3:00 to 6:30 p.m. where we do workforce development, art and culture literacy, and we take trips, and everything is based on giving them opportunity. We also are rolling out an internship piece where the kids can tell us, 'Hey, my goal is to be a veterinarian, but I have no idea how to do that.' So, we're going to work with them to be able to experience that.

I love West and I grew up in West Dayton, but I just know personally that the resources that were here years ago when I was here, they're not here anymore. So, we're working to bring them back. And you don't see a lot of community mental health providers that are small entities because mental health reimbursement is one of the lowest ones across the totem pole. You know, across the board, whether you're an oncologist or primary care, mental health tends to reimburse the lowest. And a lot of our mental health providers do private practice, and they don't take the Medicaid plans. So, it's hard to do this work. We give away a lot of service if we've got someone who's come in who's lost their benefits because of depression or anxiety, you know, we have to get them back to the point where they want to be here or that they want to support their well-being in order to get them back on their benefits. So, we don't turn anyone away based on ability to pay. So, it's it it's challenging. You know, there's been times where we didn't get paid, but the team has stuck it out and we're here for the long haul because we see the good work that's being done in the community and the community responds favorably to us.

We can go anywhere. The team we work with is from the community. A couple of our members who work with the youth have been passed incarcerations or have experienced homelessness or in the foster care system so they can tell their story and it's relatable and the kids know it's true, and they know that we care enough about them for them to continue to come back. And it's a volunteer problem. This is not a mandated court program. This is a program that the kids come on their own. So whatever services we have, we really try to work hard to, despite whatever funding sources we have or lack of funding sources we have, we try to make it happen through partnerships and fundraisers and things like that.

Jerry Kenney: The community has a chance to rise up and help you with this mission. On October 8th, you have an event at Levitt Pavilion. Tell us about that.

Brandon: Yeah, we're really excited about it because we haven't really done anything big since COVID, so we're going to be outside. The Levitt Pavilion is a beautiful location, right in the heart of downtown Dayton. It's called the Family Mental Health and Wellness Day. So, the day will start at 10:00 and it'll start with a welcome and a yoga. You know, it's a on the green space. It will be an opportunity for people to do yoga and stretching. And then we're going to have a panel discussion with mental health providers who can talk about mental health and answer questions. We're going to have NAMI — National Alliance on Mental Illness there and Youth Move, a youth program focused on mental health and youth as well as other providers to answer questions and talk. We also have invited vendors to come out who support mental health and wellness in some shape, form or fashion. So, we're really looking forward to be able to share not only knowledge, but exercise and family fun.

Kenney: Where can people get more information or find out how to become involved?

Brandon: Okay, it'll be on our website and NAMI's website which is www.sunlight-village.org. Or you can call our office 937-640-1679.

Kenney: Robbie Brandon is founder and executive director of Sunlight Village in Dayton. Robbie, thanks so much for your time. Good luck with the event on October 8th.

Brandon: Jerry Thank you very much. It's a free community event. I hope lots of people come out and enjoy it.

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.