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No-cost mental health counseling offered to food and beverage workers throughout Virginia

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Food and beverage workers in Virginia and Washington D.C. will soon have access to no-cost counseling to address mental health.

The Behind You mental health program is being launched through a partnership with the Southern Smoke Foundation and George Washington University.

SSF is providing a grant to GWU’s Meltzer Center for Psychological and Community-Based Services and member clinics to provide the mental-health counseling.

Food and beverage workers can qualify through the SSF website.

Counseling will be provided by student clinicians with oversight by licensed clinical supervisors and the university program director.

Telehealth will also be available for workers with demanding schedules or living in rural areas.

“We are delighted to be starting a partnership with the Southern Smoke Foundation for their Behind You program,” said Risa Broudy, Ph.D., director of the Meltzer Center at George Washington University. “This program will help bring evidence-based and culturally informed mental health services to a much-needed population: food and beverage industry workers in the District and Virginia, at no cost to them, while providing our graduate student clinicians with invaluable training opportunities in working with underserved members of our local community.”

SSF has been serving the Virginia food and beverage community through its emergency relief fund program since 2017 and has distributed nearly $100,000 in grants to help lift workers out of crisis.

Since Behind You launched in 2020, SSF has provided access to more than 5,100 counseling sessions at no cost. In partnership with George Washington University, Southern Smoke Foundation is projected to provide access to more than 500 no-cost counseling sessions to food and beverage workers.

To drive awareness and funds to support Behind You, SSF launched a  “Million for Mental Health” campaign on May 1, in tandem with Mental Health Awareness Month. It will cost SSF roughly $1 million annually to sustain programs in California, Illinois, Louisiana, New York and Texas, as well as expand to Maine, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington D.C. this summer. This nationwide campaign will directly support the continued growth of the program with the goal of raising $1 million by the end of the year.

RVA Hospitality CEO Liz Kincaid and her team stand behind SSF and are supporting the Million for Mental Health campaign by giving a portion of their Memorial Day proceeds from Tarrant’s West located in Downtown Richmond.

“The mental health crisis in America is real. It’s hitting our most vulnerable populations and restaurant workers have unique struggles like working on our feet long hours with the public or in hot kitchens, working evenings, weekends and holidays- when others are with family, we’re at work serving those families,” said Kincaid.

“It’s what we love to do–make people happy–but who looks after our happiness? So many folks don’t have the opportunity financially to see a therapist or talk about our unique issues.”

To learn more, visit https://southernsmoke.org/


If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org
For local mental health resources, visit AFP’s Project Mental Health page.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.

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