When it comes to connecting in the community, Rhonda Showers says “real magic brings everyone to the table.”
Showers has been creating this magic since 2019 with the Kankakee County Mental Health Network. On the second Friday of each month, the public is invited to an information session — held in the dining hall of the Riverside Medical Center — to learn about services available in the community.
Seeing the need for a greater focus on mental health services and connection, Showers started these roundtables by doing what she does best: networking.
“I just started learning,” she said, sharing that she became a “webinar addict” and researched everything she could about mental health services and connections.
As an evangelism and teaching pastor at Peoples Church in Bourbonnais, Showers is used to talking with others and learning from others. The native of Momence, now settled in the Bourbonnais, also turns to her husband, Thom, who is a certified professional clinical adviser.
The couple, who will be married for 26 years next month and have three teenagers, are passionate about helping others.
“I love people’s stories. I love connecting,” she said.
Her journey to start the network was inspired by a loved one who needed mental health services. When Showers decided to help, she saw there was a need in the community.
“It’s day-to-day support, how to listen without making things worse or saying the wrong thing, and then finding critical resources for a loved one who really needed immediate help,” she explained.
This was exacerbated by a trip to Atlanta where Showers attended the West Side Summit presented by the West Side Future Fund, a group helping people who were forced to relocate due to rising taxes and rising property values.
“I was like, ‘Aha, Kankakee needs this,'” she said of the summit.
Showers took off and brought the network’s core values of relationships, bridges, learning and innovation to life through monthly roundtables. The strategy is to educate the community, build relationships, amplify messages, and expand support groups and services.
Past presentations have covered topics such as eating disorders, law enforcement, trauma, and the brain. Organizations that have presented include Child Network, Clove Alliance (formerly KC-CASA), Harbor House and Kankakee Forgives.
Attendance at monthly roundtables has increased since the network’s inception, and Showers says they have core members in addition to attendees who join specific presentations.
“People are hungry for it,” she said. “I think the real value has been the educational presentations.”
She recently put together a board of directors for the network, and they’re working together to make the roundtables more engaging. This includes implementing greater engagement with educational conferences.
The board will eventually have one representative for each sector the network works with, including providers, social services, residents, faith communities, government, first responders, employers, arts and media, and educators.
Anyone from these sectors and beyond is welcome to attend the monthly meetings.
Showers introduces each roundtable with a beach ball analogy introduced to her in Susan Scott’s book “Fierce Conversations.”
“If we have two different worldviews, you see your worldview from a very specific lens and you don’t see mine. [and vice versa],” she said. “So if we can start tipping that beach ball and start the conversation, that expands everything and creates understanding.”
She said this analogy not only works with worldviews, but also with conversations at home and in the community.
In addition to this book, Showers also thanks organizational partner Jessica Lackey, a local educator, for her help in this endeavor.
“She was my dream and plot partner,” Showers said. “She taught me so much about social-emotional learning…she’s a rock star.”
She explained that the network’s success lies not only in educating the public about the services available to them, but in putting a face to the name.
“When you have a face you’ve met at an event like this, it’s so much easier to remember what they do and what they offer,” she explained, claiming the transfer was ‘more tangible’.
Showers said she saw hope in the participants who continue to attend, and they collectively found there was help available.
“We can do this and it doesn’t have to be like before,” she said.
She shared that this is especially seen in younger generations, as this age group is passionate about discussing mental health and erasing stigma.
During the March 11 presentation on Kankakee Forgives, presenter Aaron Clark, director of the City Life Center, brought in a few people who had been through the process. These three people, aged between 16 and 20, stood up to address the crowd.
At the most recent roundtable on April 8, the entire event was all about networking and attendees sharing information about their services with other attendees.
Showers said she continues to be “stunned” by the community.
“I had no idea of the things that were already there and the things that people were doing and the innovation,” she said. “There are so many ways to get involved and [many] people to board.