Mindful Connections is offering a free 9-week course for first responders in the Pittsburgh area
Almost every day, first responders nationwide have to deal with traumatic and stressful experiences. They are there to help others, sometimes even at the expense of their own spiritual well-being. To ease that burden, two Pittsburgh-based mental health agencies are offering free services to first responders in western Pennsylvania.
Village Center for Holistic Therapy in the West End and Shaler from Pittsburgh and Awaken Pittsburgh at the Shambhala Meditation Center in Highland Park worked together to make this happen Mindful Connections for Public Safety program after receiving a scholarship from the Staunton Farm Foundation in 2020.
“As a therapist, this was a project close to my heart,” says Kristy Weidner, co-owner of Village Center for Holistic Therapy. “I really wanted to be in the community and do first responder work.”
The Mindful Connections for Public Safety program is available to firefighters, law enforcement, paramedics, coroners, 911 dispatchers, and any other public safety worker. The course consists of nine 90-minute sessions and a half-day retreat at the end. Each session serves a maximum of 25 people.
“You can’t prevent the trauma that happens to them,” says Weidner, “but there are tools that can help.”
The first class followed a hybrid model, says Stephanie Romero, founder and CEO of Awaken Pittsburgh, with some classes meeting in person at the inJOY Meditation Studio in Shaler and some meeting virtually.
In the future, Romero hopes to be able to run the program wherever there is a need. Eventually, Romero and Weidner hope to work directly with local police, fire and ambulance services to offer their services to groups.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” says Romero. “We want to serve this population. We see the need.”
Awaken Pittsburgh and Village Center were able to extend the program after receiving $75,000 from the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation, part of the Hillman Family Foundations. At the end of this year they will receive another $70,000.
Awaken Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization, also offers donation-based, pay-what-you-can programs for anyone interested in mental health services.
The Mindful Connections for Public Safety program focuses more on holistic practices for mental well-being, like yoga and meditation, than on a diagnosis-based model, Weidner says. They teach skills anyone can use to live a happier, more balanced life, says Romero.
“When you meditate, you become still,” says Romero. “Things might come up. it will come And that’s part of the healing.”
The first free nine-week course of meditation and mindfulness sessions ended May 23. The second course round begins in autumn. For more information visit Awaken Pittsburgh.