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Gándara Center teams up with small business owners in Massachusetts to offer mental health support

Gándara Center logo.
Elizabeth Román
/
NEPM
Gándara Center logo.

A Latino economic development group in Springfield is teaming up with mental health counselors to support small businesses.

Andrew Melendez, who directs the Springfield office of the Latino Economic Development Corporation, said it's not customary for Latinos to talk casually about their mental health.

"We don't talk to our abuelas and our fathers and mothers and say 'hey, guess what my therapist told me,'" he said. "It's not a normal thing. What we want to do is normalize and say, 'It's totally more than ok.'"

Melendez said business owners — even those doing well — have been under immense strain during the pandemic, along with the regular pressures of owning a restaurant or shop.

That's why his organization is now working with the Gándara Center in Springfield, which specializes in culturally sensitive mental health care and has many Latino and Spanish-speaking counselors.

"There may have been people in the past who have gone for help, and whether it's a language barrier or a cultural barrier, they don't feel connected to the person they're talking to," said Jade Rivera McFarlin, vice president of development and community relations for Gándara. "That's a major piece, to have that comfort zone."

As far as getting past the stigma of mental health care, Melendez said business coaches at his organization will make the case that building relationships with counselors is part of everyday wellness, and not just during crises.

Both agencies hope to expand the pilot program, called "Built Together," beyond greater Springfield and offer it to business owners across the state.

Full disclosure, Gándara Center is an underwriter of New England Public Media, although that does not influence our news coverage.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.