Orange County November 2023

Population
150,477

County Seat
Hillsborough

Median Income
$79,205

Population Density Designation
Regional City/Suburban

Everyone who gathered at Hillsborough Commons when the Extra Miles Tour rolled into Orange County early on a brisk fall morning was almost immediately confronted with several crisis situations, all revolving around how to help individuals facing an acute mental health challenge without obvious pathways to support.

These were all written down on slips of paper as a small group exercise and conversation starter, but participants nonetheless felt the weight of the challenge: Each was a real-life scenario that had unfolded somewhere in our state.

The morning’s moderator and director of the ncIMPACT Initiative, Anita Brown-Graham, used this exercise as a jumping-off point to share the important work ncIMPACT’s Our State, Our Wellbeing (OSOW) program is doing across the state.

She explained that 1,448 North Carolinians died by suicide in 2021. She went on to underscore how that number doesn’t capture the full impact of the state’s mental health crisis: For every person who dies by suicide, 135 lives are affected.

“We don’t spend enough time thinking about these people,” Brown-Graham said.

Fifteen different teams, working in different regions across the state, comprise the Our State, Our Wellbeing effort. Each multidisciplinary team brings together educators, health workers, human services leaders and others to forge sustainable, local strategies for extending the reach of mental health and substance use recovery resources.

The Orange County team, known as the Orange Resilience Initiative (ORI), was on hand to explain the sort of work they do. ORI includes representatives from a variety of local organizations and resources, including Alliance Behavioral Health, Orange County Health Department, Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth, Orange County Schools, Social Services and others. Like every OSOW team in the state, ORI thrives on taking a collaborative approach.

Breaking down silos and working across sectors has allowed the team’s work to penetrate many different realms and engage people “where they are”: Churches, schools, law enforcement settings, public events and so on.

It has also helped the team plan and implement a wide array of activities to address the problem from different angles. Ashley Rawlinson, from the Orange County Health Department, discussed the importance of destigmatizing mental health issues, so the group has organized community walks, events, public talks focused on sharing personal stories, and other activities all designed to make it a community norm to talk about mental health. The county has invested in a mental health messaging campaign utilizing transit advertising and social media to raise awareness of the 988 resource.

Dr. Jessica Dreher, from Orange County Schools, shared how the school system is enhancing the community’s capacity to intervene in youth crisis situations by organizing Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings, not just for school staff, but also for the Department of Social Services, the Health Department and youth mentoring organizations. Slowly but surely, these efforts are expanding the network of adults who are trained to recognize and respond to young people in crisis. Now they’re beginning to host trainings for teens to create a robust peer support network. All this is on top of the school system’s work to help students build a stronger foundation for long-term well-being through partnerships with local youth organizations (e.g., Grow Your Own, Reintegration Support Network) and its Boomerang Program, which focuses on teaching life skills as an alternative to school suspension.

Dana Crews, from the Orange County Health Department, explained how her team regularly convenes a cross-sector group to discuss the circumstances surrounding the county’s past suicide cases. Discussion centers on what could have been prevented. This sort of dialogue helps the county plot what steps it can take in the future to “move the needle.”

Near the end of the discussion, Dr. John Lumpkin congratulated the team for its commitment: “You exemplify how government agencies can make a difference by working with communities instead of just in communities.”

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 12/23