Game Changer Delray Beach Youth Minister Working to Break Rown Mental Health Barriers at Church

1524

Staff report

Freslaine Saint Louis accepted Christ into her life on her birthday. Nov. 4, 2007 and decided she was going to serve where she was needed.

That place was the church she was raised in, Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Delray Beach.

She began helping with the worship arts and then took over as the youth minister for the church in 2010.

For the past nine years, she has watched her students get married, go off to college and one even finish with a doctorate.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “It’s beautiful to see them go away to college and stay in touch with them. It’s been an awesome journey.”

But not all journeys are smooth sailing, she said. Many of her students have had bumpy roads. And that is how she realized, she could help the congregants in her role.

She learned that cultural differences between Haiti, where a lot of the congregants are from, and America were stressing out a lot of the parents of her students.

With help from the first lady of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church, Filise Jules, a mental health professional, the two worked together to provide Mental Health First Aid at the church.

They began hosting generational meetings where people could share how they were feeling and air out issues they were facing. When substance abuse problems were uncovered, they brought in help.

Saint Louis recently became one of the first Creole speaking trainers in the county for Mental Health First Aid. MHFA is a nationally renowned eight-hour course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

Saint Louis was introduced to MHFA through Healthier Delray, a Palm Health Foundation initiative focused on behavioral health. Recognizing the training’s potential to reach the parents of her church’s 700-member congregation and teaching them how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders among their children was important to her.

“As a youth minister, I feel that the children’s lives are in all of our hands,” she said. “We can’t be passive. We need to have difficult conversations, or we’ll lose our children when their anxiety and stress turns to substance abuse.”

Saint Louis is working to remove the stigma and fear around mental health. Often times in the church, she said people associated mental health with severe conditions, not realizing stress and anxiety fall into that category as well.

MHFA is now not only accepted, it has grown through word of mouth and parents are realizing the benefits of learning how to communicate and engage more with their children. The program has become embraced by the church and they are working on making MHFA a requirement for its leadership curriculum.

Funding for Saint Louis to provide MHFA training came through a grant made to Palm Health Foundation by Florida Blue Foundation in November 2018. The funding provides free MHFA trainings for 2,000 African American, Haitian and Hispanic adults residing in the foundation’s Healthier Together communities, including Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, Riviera Beach/Northern West Palm Beach, Jupiter and the Glades. MHFA is delivered in partnership with Alpert Jewish Family & Children’s Services.

“We are really working to ensure the youth and adults were getting the necessary resources that they needed,” she said. “I am really excited to see what comes out of it. I’m so grateful to be able to teach it, especially in the church.”

Saint Louis provides MHFA in Creole and English throughout Palm Beach County. To learn more, please visit https://www.alpertjfs.org/mental-health-first-aid/.