Last week I was reminded of a quote from Charlotte Gray, “Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate. “
On the surface the quote might seem somber but for me it instills hope. The hope of a mother and the power of mothers to create change in the name of their children. Many times the donors we work with at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation are mothers who want to create change for the children of our region.
Once a mother experiences the pain, struggle or suffering of their own child or any child she will not only weep but she will take action. The longing to comfort moves quickly to finding solutions.
This bond between mother and child has resulted in cures for diseases, legislation being passed, and reformation on a wide range of social issues including hunger, human trafficking, abuse and health care.
If a child has a need that has no current solution- put a mother on it and get out of the way.
The reason the quote was top of mind for me last week was because I attended the 5th annual HOPE Clubhouse of Southwest Florida Mental Health Educational Symposium.
HOPE Clubhouse is a community resource that fills a significant gap in the opportunities for people living with mental illness in Southwest Florida. HOPE Clubhouse offers opportunities for meaningful work, education, friendships, and access to housing in a supportive, caring, dignified and respectful community setting. Members of HOPE Clubhouse develop hope for recovery and achievement of their full human potential.
We have a HOPE Clubhouse in Southwest Florida because a group of mental health advocates who happened to be mothers saw a need. They had adult children with mental illness and knew that a clubhouse could make a difference not only for their children but for all the other mothers’ children as well.
The Symposium featured Jessie Close as the keynote speaker. Jessie is the sister of actress Glenn Close and she shared her own journey with mental illness and the work her family has done to advocate for the cause. Her personal story is compelling but when she begins to speak about her son who was diagnosed with his own mental illness the pace and intensity of her story takes a turn. She is able to share her pain as a mother who does not want to see her son suffer and as eloquent as she was in describing her recovery, she was equally proud and exuberant in speaking of his full life with a wife, a job and a house full of pets. His recovery brings her joy and hope for her own future.
But Jessie Close and the founding members of the HOPE Clubhouse were not the only mothers in the room. During the Q&A portion of the program, mothers in the audience bravely stood up and asked for help on behalf of their children. They shared their struggles of navigating the mental health system and cried out for a solution. Mothers who had walked the road ahead of them offered answers from the stage but then I noticed others quietly making their way over to their tables to talk privately, offer their cards and promise to follow up. It wasn’t their struggle, but it didn’t matter- it was the collective struggle and they longed to comfort them.
In the end, the moderator of the day community advocate Kellie Burns, who admitted the symposium had touched her emotionally, said it best when she told the crowd that she knew there was still much work to do but it could be done. We just need to put the mothers on it.