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Finding Balance

The Masonic Center for Youth and Families got creative
in bringing emotional-wellness support to all in 2020.

The Masonic Center for Youth and Families (MCYAF)  got creative in bringing emotional-wellness support to all when statewide stay-at-home orders came down on a Friday last March, Kimberly Rich remembers. By Monday, counselors at the MCYAF were seeing clients again, entirely by videoconference.

It was a massive organizational pivot, says Rich, executive director of MCYAF, but one the team embraced. Before the pandemic began, only 1 or 2 percent of client interactions were virtual; since March,nearly every single one of its more than 3,000 appointments were remote—and that allowed MCYAF to expand services at a time when they’re needed more than ever.

"Everybody needs emotional support when they're going through a difficult time."

The Center has seen an increase in calls for educational therapy services, mostly for middle and high school students struggling to adapt to remote learning, as well as marriage and family counseling services. But the biggest change has been its expansion into the Masonic Homes of California (MHC), where MCYAF counselors offered residents and staff “virtual visit” calls free of charge. “It’s not therapy, it’s a friendly visit,” Rich says.

MCYAF also launched a staff wellness program for MHC to help prevent burnout and alleviate stress for frontline workers. “The pandemic has taken its toll on folks,” Rich says. “People are fatigued. At the same time, I’m seeing a shift around the stigma associated with mental health services. It’s normalized the idea that everybody needs emotional support when they’re going through a difficult time.”

Another silver lining for MYCAF has been growth in outreach to the Masonic youth orders, where Rich says they’ve seen a quadruple increase in referrals, helped immensely by the sudden ubiquity of videoconferencing. “During the pandemic, nobody judges you for needing to talk to someone,” Rich says. “Because who the heck doesn’t need someone to talk to right now?”

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