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EPIC CEO_Patti Greenough

Patti Greenough

CGC CEO_Dr. Theresa Rulien.jpg

Theresa Rulien

SPBH CEO_Laureen Pagel

Laureen Pagel

Clay CEO_Irene Toto

Irene Toto

Gateway CEO_Candace Hodgkins

Candace Hodgkins


It all started by talkin'

As with many great ideas, Talkable Communities was born out of creative discussion. Routinely, the CEOs of five behavioral healthcare nonprofit organizations gather to collaborate and discuss ways to improve their systems of care. The group consists of Patti Greenough, CEO of EPIC Behavioral Healthcare; Theresa Rulien, CEO of Child Guidance Center; Laureen Pagel, CEO of Starting Point Behavioral Healthcare; Irene Toto, CEO of Clay Behavioral Health Center; and Candace Hodgkins, CEO of Gateway - Steps to Recovery.

“Our group is a microcosm of working together for the greater good. Individual differences are accepted, and the group works together to share ideas, brainstorm solutions, problem solve, celebrate successes, and develop a sustainable network of support. It’s a demonstration of what a healthy community can be. Stronger together.” - (Irene Toto)

“During our brainstorming session I used the ‘Walkable Communities' concept as an example of how I envisioned our project being able to impact a larger geographic area and make the most impact. ‘Talkable Communities’ was born out of that discussion, and everyone agreed that would be our vision for Northeast Florida. We quickly googled the term ‘talkable communities’ and could not find it anywhere. Patti secured the website and set up the LLC. BOOM! It was now ours.” - (Laureen Pagel)

But that was just the start. While the CEOs had a great idea, they still needed a plan. Together, they designed ‘Talkable Communities’ as a project to advance mental well-being for the children and families in Northeast Florida. They created a four-year logic model and developed the Talkable Communities organization structure consisting of more than twenty-five people working together from the five different nonprofits – a true collaboration. All this work made Talkable Communities what it is today.

Together, the nonprofit organizations provide behavioral health services to the residents of Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns Counties. In combination, they cover over 4,500 square miles of the state of Florida (the near equivalent to the size of 3 Rhode Island’s). Their first meeting in 2020 (prior to the pandemic), was specifically focused on the growing need for mental health services in Northeast Florida. Among many concerns, each of the counties has a suicide rate equal to or higher than the Florida state average.

“The five of us realized that collectively we had a great opportunity to make a significant impact on the overall wellness of families throughout the six-county area that we serve. During this brainstorming session, we discussed ways to ‘get a conversation going’ within families and the community as to address mental well-being through education and social media activities.” - (Patti Greenough)

While the CEOs had been collaborating together for many years, they did not have a single project that was a joint effort. Now, they had a unique opportunity to respond to a grant request from the Florida Blue Foundation to create a project of their own. The goal of this grant was to advance mental well-being for families and community members to mitigate the stressors associated with issues that often impact entire families and communities.

“Talkable Communities is a unique program designed to increase suicide prevention, suicide awareness, and overall mental well-being for youth, their families and their communities through evidenced-based trainings such as QPR, ITTTAI, and Youth Mental Health First Aid.”

- (Candace Hodgkins)

Now, the tough work begins. The CEOs and their nonprofit organizations will try to transform the very emotional framework of these six counties in Northeast Florida. Together, the five nonprofit behavioral healthcare providers aim to promote social connectedness and create a community in which people freely have conversations about their mental well-being without feeling any stigma or shame. And they hope for lasting impact.

“The benefit of the trainings and conversation created in a Talkable Community is the ability for this information and understanding to be passed into the next generations as it becomes a foundational part of families’ and our communities’ knowledge base.” - (Theresa Rulien)

While this approach is both novel and remarkable, it is also very simple. The five CEOs want to make Northeast Florida a happier and healthier place to live. They want to elevate wellness, decrease suicide, and bring our communities closer together. This can happen and all it requires is teens, adults, families, parents, community members and neighbors to start the conversation about mental health.

It all starts by talkin'

The Story
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