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Every morning, I pass the flagpoles in front of our courthouse. Every morning, at least it seems, the flags are at half-mast. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. 

Everything is so heavy these days. For many years, we’ve sat in classrooms, constantly inundated with the seemingly unsolvable issues that our generation is facing—which has taken a huge toll on our mental health. It is important to discuss mental health, especially as our generation is leaving the school systems we’ve known all our lives and finding our places in the real (-ly messed up) world. This is a weird, transformative time for us, and our brain chemistry is all over the place. 

My favorite way to cope is to ground myself in reality by focusing on tangible points of direct impact in my everyday life. I am incredibly grateful that my position here has allowed me to observe and participate as our local government directly helps its constituents. Here are just a few points of direct impact that ground me in reality and reassure me that there are good things happening in the world: 

  1. Riverside Flood Project: When Harnett County received its American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government, the Riverside community in Erwin collaborated with County staff and elected officials to request a portion of the displaced funding for a flood remediation project in their community. Decades of deferred maintenance and improper disposal of tires have created major flooding and moisture problems in this neighborhood. This area is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and creates serious mold and mildew issues inside homes, both of which are public health concerns. I am lucky to watch as this remediation project is implemented—it is inspiring and encouraging for me to see such an effective example of collaboration between the local government and the public that is also improving environmental and human health.
  2. Foster Program Support: Harnett County is very invested in the welfare of the youth in our foster programs. Every year, during the holiday season, the Department of Social Services and the Division on Aging collaborate to match each youth in foster care with a County employee. Last year, 123 foster children received clothes, toys, and supplies during the holiday season. When I asked a staff member if these are the only presents the foster children will receive for the holidays, she responded, “It’s very likely that is the case.” While giving presents to kids does nothing about the systemic issues that put them in that situation, it’s pretty cool to know that this program has the potential to make the foster youth in our community feel loved and supported.
  3. Nonprofit Funding: One of the projects I’m working on involves disbursing $1.5 million to 46 different local nonprofits/entities. Interacting with each sub-recipient has turned out to be incredibly rewarding for me. Five of our local food banks received some of this funding—I will always remember the immense gratitude expressed when I shared the news of this funding with the people who are pouring their time, money, and passion into the operations of these food banks. This funding has also reached individuals with special needs, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, the elderly, and other disadvantaged folks in our community in a multitude of ways. I know it’s cheesy, but knowing that I’m helping support the members of our community who need it most gives me the motivation to come back to work every day. 

DISCLAIMER: I am not sharing these experiences to stroke my ego or fuel any type of savior complex. I am only sharing these experiences to remind all of us that at the level of local government, there are so many opportunities to make a difference in our communities. And when the rollercoaster of our mental health makes us feel queasy, sometimes taking action (no matter how big or small) can help steady us and find our path forward.