Most of us struggle with our own mental health and others’, a daily battle or balancing act across ages, backgrounds and specifics.
Yet it’s a battle you don’t have to fight alone.
Georgia Chakos Ferrell has led her team at Safe Harbor Coronado to champion a citywide effort with organizations, businesses and neighbors all taking part. While May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, Safe Harbor blazes year-round to provide mental wellness support and diverse, qualified resources.
Georgia was suggested to The Coronado Times as a “Queen of Crown City” with the note that she’s a “warrior for mental health.”
It’s what it takes, isn’t it? A warrior.
While she has to remind herself constantly, and has loved ones remind her as well, to practice what she preaches in terms of self-care and balance and doing better, Georgia also fights the good fight: “We as a community have to be there for our family, friends, neighbors.”
Throughout this month and beyond, the nonprofit features guest speakers, films, activities, programs and more to strengthen the community with a layer of communication, tools and wisdom. Georgia has helped to grow Safe Harbor in recent years with a new brand and fundraising support from new donors.
However, she emphasized the key is connection. She explained how yes, we have circles of influence with what we do for a living, what we support and how we vote — but we have control over ourselves, examining one’s self and how or if we connect with other people.
Originally from Gary, Indiana, Georgia was born the youngest of eight, 21 years apart from the oldest. Her older brothers took over the family business while her parents relocated with the younger siblings, moving west and hitting the coast to resettle in San Diego — similar to Melbourne, Australia where her mother, a World War II bride as a foreign civilian who married an American soldier, was from.
While they moved around some, Georgia ended up in Coronado for eighth grade and graduated from Coronado High School in ’85. Her two children — one a freshman and one a senior at CHS — have lived in the community their whole lives.
After gaining a degree in public health, Georgia joined the United States Peace Corps and served in West Africa. Afterwards she delved into health coaching, nutrition, and holistic health practice as well as the business side.
“I have that entrepreneurial background that’s kind of carried me through everything,” she observed. When her youngest was in kindergarten she said, “I was itching to do something more and so I started looking for a job, and I brought the movie ‘Race to Nowhere’ to town.”
She described how it was a town hall kind of approach, a film only available in that type of venue, with a few different showings at all the local public and private schools as well as around 1,000 people watching the movie, she recalled. She was realizing in working with that content, how to challenge common thinking about preparing children for success in life.
Georgia started getting more involved — volunteering, meeting community members, initiating and executing ideas. Right when she was feeling entirely ready for a job, she said, the former executive director of Safe Harbor Coronado (then called Coronado Safe) gave her a call.
Georgia remembered with a laugh how she was literally working on her resume when the former director rang to ask what she was up to.
After joining the team, a year later the director moved on and Georgia became the nonprofit’s new fearless leader. That was eight years ago.
Georgia remarked how it feels like one moment she’s searching for her path, reaching out to elementary school parents to form a committee, calling the PTO presidents and principals, going around meeting everybody and saying, “hey, here’s this idea…,” then fast-forward to serving Safe Harbor and trying to grow it in a sustainable way.
Part of her job as the executive director of Safe Harbor is to facilitate the Safe Coalition, bringing together the police chief, district superintendent, principals from the public and private schools, hospital and library staff as well as others to touch base once a month — collaborate and coordinate to foster the behavioral and emotional support of youth and families in Coronado.
This community camaraderie also facilitated the recent showing of “Weight of Gold” including a panel discussion, another recent movie focusing on angst, and simply creating awareness and conversations around these events, she shared.
“We’re a really small organization with a really small staff who is doing a lot for the community,” she said. “Prevention efforts are the key, but it can be hard to focus on that when there are a lot of crisis situations. For a decade, mental health issues for youth have been increased and Coronado is not immune to it.”
Georgia added how it’s hard to use volunteers because acute issues with children have grown, as well as leapt with the pandemic, and anybody who’s working with them needs to be trained and prepared.
“We’ve grown over the years, but we’ve grown thoughtfully and strategically,” she said.
She also illustrated how when she took over, the nonprofit was a $200,000 organization with fluctuation during the pandemic, gaining stability at around $350,000 on average. Currently her goal is a $500,000+ sustainable budget.
“We must continue to grow to meet the needs of the community.”
She noted it can be difficult to fundraise for suicide, drug abuse, and other issues with a sadness attached and a stigma that still exists, but these crises are impossible to ignore anymore and there’s a serious scarcity of resources to tackle prevention.
Having experience in the Peace Corps, Georgia remarked, taught her there are a lot of needs out there and that there are needs right here in our hometown.
“With a zip code like 92118, the perception is that we have everything and more,” she said. “The reality is that there are community members who can use a helping hand from time to time. Providing that our community continues to support our work, we will continue to be here for them.
“Safe Harbor Coronado is a local organization with ‘boots on the ground.’ We are here to support youth and families with tools to help them thrive.”
The Coronado Times welcomes ‘Queens of Crown City’ suggestions from our readers of local women to profile. Email your nomination here.