Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

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Final Transformation

Friday, August 22, 2014 1:29 pm

I’ve officially wrapped up my time at Transformed Minds, and in a way, it was a transformative experience. I went into it not knowing what to expect and knowing that I would have to be going out on a limb to contact leaders of prison and jail ministries and programs that emphasized mental health services. I didn’t know whether I would acquire any useful data and commentary from these leaders.

Thankfully, at least toward the end of my internship, people started responding to my inquiries, and I had some really informative and enlightening phone interviews that helped shed light on the U.S. prison system in general, but especially how it pertains to the mental health services offered to inmates and people re-entering society from prison.

The best part was definitely actually getting to talk to the people who were doing the work I spent the majority of the summer reading about and getting a better idea of how the system works in action. The worst part of my internship was probably the fact that I did it without any peers. I definitely think that for certain types of research, it is more fun to work with other people who share the interest and can possibly look at the work you’re doing from another angle. Don’t get me wrong, I collaborated with my boss a lot, which was really helpful, but with a staff of 3, the office environment was at times a little slow for me. But, such is the not-for-profit way of doing things sometimes.

The major reason this experience was transformative is because I learned something about myself that I guess I already knew but needed confirmed. This was that I really need to improve my mode of communication with others. By this, I mean that I have a tendency to assume that I don’t need to keep people updated about what’s going on in my life or that I don’t have to be frequent in relaying my work progress to my superiors.

I was lucky this summer in that my work environment was extremely relaxed, so I was able to work from home or not in the office and was not penalized when life got in the way of working, which it especially did this summer. I realized toward the end of my time, though, that this behavior left my boss kind of “in the dark” about how I was doing, and that wasn’t fair to me. Again, I was lucky because my boss and I have a close relationship and the environment was lax, so it wasn’t a big deal. However, he warned me that in a more high-stakes environment, I can’t keep people out of the loop because they won’t be as empathetic and supportive when I keep things from them until the last minute.

So, if there’s anything I took away from this summer, it was that communication is key. It was key to the success of my research, and it will be key to my professional success, as well.

Week 7: An Education

Sunday, July 27, 2014 3:26 am

I’m nearing the end of my internship at Transformed Minds, and I’ve learned a lot about the traits demanded of a person who is just founding a new organization. In many ways, being at this stage is exciting because each day is a new opportunity to learn about the opportunities and potential avenues your organization can take. There’s something to say about starting something from the ground up and watching it grow to magnitudes you could never imagine. It’s dignified. On the other hand, it’s difficult and slow-going, thus, requiring a lot of patience. It also requires courage because one must be willing to stick one’s neck out, never knowing what could come of such a leap of faith. The “sticking out of the neck” in this context really refers to the act of reaching out to potential [fill in the blank]. Some of the people we reach out to (either via email or phone) will end up being huge donors. Some of them will end up being major members of the consortium. Some of them will just be a point of contact to another resource. When you reach out to them, you want to tell them about how your organization is awesome and they should definitely want to be a part of it in some capacity (especially the kind that gives us more money). Jokes aside, one really has to learn the art of biting one’s tongue and keeping the conversation to the bare basics, making it clear that you’d appreciate their help in any way, but keeping the possibility open in the back of your mind that said contact may just not be that interested or available. Regardless, as are most things these days, this experience has been an exercise in networking, and the growth has been both outward and inward.

Week 6–Challenges for Transformed Minds

Sunday, July 13, 2014 3:42 am

I wouldn’t say we have any real competitors. I don’t know of any organizations that are trying to do precisely what Transformed Minds is trying to do. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but even if they did, I don’t view that as being a detriment to our work. The more people working toward a worthy mission such as this, the more successful that mission is likely to become. It doesn’t necessarily matter who is carrying out that mission as long as it is being carried out. Moreover, if there are other organizations with similar setups and goals, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all connect with each other and help each other grow stronger in our resources and forms of outreach?

Anyway, our biggest challenge isn’t competitors but, in fact, funding. Transformed Minds is VERY new. Founded just last year, it is still very much in its start-up stage with a small set of offices in “The Incubator,” a house on University Parkway right across from the entrance on that road to campus that is dedicated to small entrepreneurial ventures that spring up at Wake. A lot of my posts have emphasized our organization’s emphasis on networking and funding because that’s what we’re all about right now. In order to become a consortium with 11,000+ resources/contacts for the mentally ill, we’ve got to get those networks and we have to make sure we have the money from somewhere to keep this mission alive and well.

The hardest part, I believe, is that we’re still new and a lot of people simply don’t know who we are or necessarily understand what we’re about. I also think the proclaimed identity as a Christian organization might present itself as a road block initially because in this day and age, it is really hard to say you’re Christian and to be perceived as tolerant and all-loving for various reasons–the mental health field is no exception. Transformed Minds has consciously attempted to craft it’s image to appeal to everyone, not just Christians, but to use a “Christ-like” approach because generally, everyone likes the idea of who Jesus Christ was. He chilled with the homeless and the prostitutes, distanced himself from the wealthy, never talked about homosexuality, just healed and talked to anyone he encountered or anyone that wanted to talk to him, even the Pharisees. In essence, the goal of Transformed Minds is to “chill” with anyone who’s interested, and the “Christ-like” aspect of its approach encompasses the unconditional love, respect, tolerance and outreach that this organization aims to achieve and execute.

So, maybe, our biggest challenge will be getting people to understand that it’s not just a Christian organization for Christians, but it’s by the people and for the people.

Week 5–Company Culture

Sunday, July 13, 2014 3:29 am

Success and failure aren’t defined so concisely at Transformed Minds. Having been founded last year and having the goal of reaching 11,000 consortium members by the end of next year, the main marker of success is gaining membership and expanding the consortium of online resources. This goal spans beyond my summer project that focuses on prison ministries and aims to reach all people in need of resources for mental illness. If we form a network that ends up not turning into full consortium membership, it is not deemed as failure because a network always leads to other things, namely more networks and sometimes even various pockets of funding here and there.

As far as major decisions for the organization, there exists a Board of Directors comprised of eight professionals, not including the founder and executive director Bob Mills and the financial officer Nina Poe, in the fields of mental health, religion, community outreach and anywhere in between. The one meeting I’ve been able to attend involved an organized web conference between the Board and 3 separate experts in the mental health field–one was Amy Simpson, an editor at Christianity Today whose novel Trouble Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission aims to describe the landscape of mental illness in America and the Church’s successes and failures in responding to it. Another guest was Dr. Matt Stanford, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical studies at Baylor University who also co-founded the Mental Health Grace Alliance and wrote a book entitled Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, published in 2008. Finally, the 3rd guest was Dr. David Jenkins a professor at the Center for Counseling and Family Studies of the School of Health Sciences of Liberty University. Each provided their personal and professional insights on what they’ve perceived to be successes and failures of the Church in providing services, if any, for the mentally ill.

Sitting in on this meeting, I became aware of how Transformed Minds aims to take into account as many perspectives and opinions of people in as many relevant fields as possible to offer the most wide reaching forms of services to people who need them. It is literally connecting people from all over the country. Decisions are made based on the needs of the expected constituents of this organization.

Within the office, since on a daily basis, it’s usually just me, Bob and Nina–and because each of our jobs are VERY different–work is pretty independent. We consult each other, however, each day just to see where we each are and to try to stay on the same page, and Nina and Bob are both really helpful at offering me direction for potential networks to pursue. Altogether, the work climate is pretty calm and peaceful. I can’t complain.

Week 4

Saturday, June 21, 2014 11:42 am

So, I’m approximately halfway through my internship now, and in retrospect, some progress has been made since I started. The progress has been limited, however, mostly because of some family travels that have intercepted my regular work schedule. The great part about the bulk of my job, at the moment, is that much of it can be done from anywhere in the world, even Nigeria. So far, I’ve compiled a slew of potential contacts through which Transformed Minds can develop networks for expanding its mission. My primary goal, once I return to the States, is to work to make these networks permanent, hopefully gaining some helpful resources from well-established prison ministries. I am also hoping for a few opportunities to see how some of these prison ministries are working first hand just to get a better sense of what is out there, at least in Winston and other parts of the Piedmont Triad. Hoping for more updates in a couple of weeks.

Week 3-The Beginning of Transformation

Sunday, June 15, 2014 9:35 am

Transformed Minds was the fruit of a seed planted in the mind of Bob Mills, who currently acts as its founder and executive director and my mentor this summer. Mills was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and while always a church-goer, did not consider himself really affected spiritually until he needed to depend on something bigger than himself for the suffering he was going through. I know I’m beating a dead horse with my use of my organization’s name in just about every pun I’ve written, but I honestly think the name of the program stemmed from his own personal, spiritual, mental, psychological and emotional transformation. He chose to retire from his stable and well-respected position at Wake to take on a new venture with the aim of bringing together people on all corners of the mental health “situation” in our society–the people that need the care, the people that can provide it. and the people that fall into both groups, all with a very faith-based methodology in mind. In the few years since he began working on this venture, a knowledgeable and passionate group of board members has been established, and the projection of growth for how vast the reach of Transformed Minds can be is enormous. The biggest obstacle is, of course, money, considering that this organization is about as non-profit as it gets, pardon the hyperbole. But, really, basically, the point at which the organization has found itself is one where we know exactly where we want to be and just need the resources, human and financial, to make it a greater reality. My job this summer is just a small slice of the networking pie, as I’m focusing on prison ministries. Even if not every person we reach out to can offer us financial backing, we know everyone has something to offer, just as we hope to be of use to those with whom we interact, so it’s really just about keeping an open mind.

Week 2: A Change of Plans

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 5:31 am

So, last week was actually my second week, but that’s okay. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, so this just adds to my perspective.

I went into my new office ready to pour myself into the trials and tribulations of quite a few groups of marginalized American citizens–prisoners or ex-cons, single parents, foster kids, the homeless, etc.–all based, of course, on the biblical and Christian theological doctrine of a “duty,” “obligation,” “calling,” what have you, to do so.

Well, after a nice and LONG sit-down with my boss, I realized that I had been dancing around the real issue all along. I needed to refocus my energy and zero-in on a large source of the problems that in one way or another affect all of the groups of people I just mentioned.

There real pebble in the water is the flaws in the mental health “system” for our nation’s prisoners. The perpetuation of a cycle of broken homes, poverty and homelessness is just the ripple effect of the deficit of effective and sustainable programs to not only rehabilitate mentally ill prisoners but to also re-integrate them into society following their release and to maintain strong mental health treatment options for them once they are “on their own.”

Moreover, what I found most interesting in my research last week is that there’s little emphasis on what the role of faith communities and prison ministries is concerning this rehabilitation process within and outside of prisons. Naturally, as prisons are government institutions, there will be reluctance to officially adopt the help of any one faith community, with no exception to churches.

However, prison ministries do exist, and as I’ve found, they come in many forms that can be therapeutic and transforming for the inmates and even the volunteers involved.

Last week was really when a clear vision of what the role of Transformed Minds and other like organizations could be in helping to connect the faith communities not only with prisons, but also with other communities that already have strong prison ministries. The more cohesive the network of resources, spiritual, professional and institutional, the more effective the well-rounded treatment, rehabilitation and, in some cases, rehabilitation will be for the prisoners and ex-prisoners who are dealing with mental illnesses.

I’m really excited for where this work will take me and for the interesting people who are already doing great things in this arena and with whom I hope to connect.

First Week of Transformation

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 1:18 am

And, so begins my first week as an intern for Transformed Minds. Founded by Bob Mills, former associate vice president of University Advancement at Wake, Transformed Minds acts a consortium of resources for people dealing with mental illnesses directly or indirectly using a “Christ-like” approach. I say “Christ-like” and not “Christian” because there’s a general notion that although many people do not relate to or agree completely with Christian ideals, Christ as an individual and moral figurehead is generally well liked, especially because of He encompasses an unconditional love and sacrifice. This type of unconditional love is the what the world needs in many situations, not the least of which is in the acceptance of mental illness as something that is normal.

This is the first internship I can truthfully and completely say aligns perfectly with my personal experiences, beliefs and goals. Mental illness as a social concern has been on the rise in light of events over the last few years that have spurred debates about both gun control and how we as a society handle mental illnesses. Aside from these questions, there still remains a search for the most effective manners by which to de-stigmatize mental illnesses and to make mental health as much a topic of discussion as physical health is. My work this summer at Transformed Minds can be summarized as the “Justice Project.” While mostly conceptual, it will involve a wide-ranging exploration of the resources available to certain marginalized groups in society, all of which experience high incidences of mental illnesses.

These groups are explored from a theologically Christian standpoint, as the Bible implores Christians to watch after the widows, the imprisoned, the orphans and the homeless. In the modern world, these subpopulations could be seen as single parents/widows/widowers, prisoners, orphans/foster children/runaways, and the homeless, respectively. My work aims to expose the mental illnesses that each of these marginalized groups experience the most, the resources currently available to them, and the potential role that Transformed Minds and other components of the national mental health “system” could have in improving these resources.

I am confident this journey will be rewarding and enlightening for everyone involved.

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