Within the past two decades, the number of people suffering from depression and mental health disorders has exponentially increased, making suicide one of the biggest causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA. Over the past several years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have suffered from mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in 2020, approximately 1 in 5 adults or 21% of U.S. adults have experienced mental illness, and 1 in 20 adults or 5.6% of U.S. adults have experienced serious mental illness. Mental illness also affects the younger age groups as well. In 2016, approximately 7.7 million children or 16.5% of U.S. youth between 6-17 years of age have experienced a mental health disorder.

Mental illness affects all demographic groups among U.S. adults. Studies have shown that the following groups were affected in the U.S: Asians (13.9%), White (22.6%), black or African-American (17.3%), American Indian or Alaska Native (18.7%), mixed/multiracial (35.8%), Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (16.6%), Hispanic or Latino (18.4%), Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual (47.4%). Out of those diagnosed with mental illness, in 2020, 46.2% of U.S. adults with mental illness and 64.5% of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment. In 2016, 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment.

However, the average time between initial diagnosis with mental disorder and treatment is 11 years. Treatment may be an obstacle for many due to financial difficulties. In 2020, approximately 11% of U.S. adults with mental illness and 11.3% of U.S. adults with serious mental illness did not have any insurance coverage for treatment. Over 148 million people in the U.S. reside in an area that is designated as a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area.

The Asian American Resource Center offers a Mental Health Counseling Program to provide free evaluation and counseling to enhance the quality of life to single parents, children and adolescents, victims of crime and abuse, homeless individuals, and other vulnerable individuals. AARC has partnered with industry professionals to strengthen and secure each individual’s mental health aspect and grow as mature independent individuals.

In order to support the Mental Health Counseling Program at AARC, the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia has awarded AARC with a Catholic Community grant. The Grants Program at the Catholic Foundation helps organizations in the community with sufficient financial resources to make a difference and serve those in need. The Grants Program also directly impacts non-profits, parishes, and schools serving within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Atlanta community that reflects the teachings of the Catholic social teaching, faith, and The Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan. AARC is thankful to have received a grant from the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia and will continue to provide mental health counseling to those in need.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a setback for many individuals and families as corporations and businesses had to cut back on employees. As a result, many of these individuals lost their jobs and could not afford to pay their rent and mortgage in addition to basic household essentials. According to the Pulse survey, in October 2021, over 20 million households reported that they did not have enough to eat while over 12 million households were behind on rent. Toward the end of 2021, unemployment benefits had expired for most of these individuals along with other economic troubles such as the increasing cost of goods due to the global supply chain issues.

Homelessness continues to be a major problem for those in the metro Atlanta area, due to the exponential increase in rent and housing prices over the recent months. The Rapid Re-Housing Program at the Asian American Resource Center helps homeless families find and maintain housing by creating pathways for homeless families to enter the financial mainstream for their future. Families and individuals are able to access financial education and develop essential job skills for employment. In addition, the Homelessness Prevention Program assists families facing imminent eviction in the state of Georgia by offering short-term rental and utility assistance to stop homelessness and pending evictions.

In order to support both the Rapid Re-Housing and Homeless Prevention Programs, the Jackson EMC Foundation has partnered with AARC. The Jackson EMC Foundation is a 501 (c)3 organization set up to represent the members of Jackson EMC by awarding the funds collected from Operation Round Up to charities. Operation Round Up is a program where Jackson EMC members have the option to round up each month’s electric bill to the next whole dollar amount. The amount can be as little as one penny or as much as 99 cents; the annual average contribution for each member is approximately $6. Contributions toward Operation Round Up are tax-deductible. With the funds from Operation Round Up, Jackson EMC provides financial assistance and charitable needs to the ten counties served by Jackson EMC: Banks, Barrow, Clarke, Franklin, Gwinnett, Hall, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, and Oglethorpe. Within the first year of launching Operation Round Up, the program was able to raise more than $800,000 to benefit organizations and individuals. The grants awarded from Operation Round Up are chosen on a monthly basis and have been awarded to organizations such as YMCA, public libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs, Children’s Center, food banks, and other charitable organizations.

In 2020 alone, AARC was able to pay rental assistance for over 63 individuals anywhere between one to four months in addition to providing resources in the community so that clients are able to have a better quality of life. AARC is grateful to have partnered with Jackson EMC for the grant opportunity to better serve the community of metro Atlanta.

Due to COVID-19, student participation in virtual classes at some schools lagged in their academic performance, and researchers stated that the percentage of students in 3rd to 8th-grade metro Atlanta students deemed proficient in English language arts and math dropped over 40%.

To address this issue, AARC will be launching its newest program, DreamEd, to help the underperforming students from low-income families who are struggling in the school system and have had a further setback during the pandemic, among the low-performing schools in Gwinnett County. Experts state that schools should focus on low-income, minority students, and the DreamEd program will provide guidance in increasing student performance in schools. Through this program, students in elementary and middle school will be able to receive the help to get back on track for educational success and perform on par with the expected grade level proficiency. AARC has been collaborating with schools in the Gwinnett County school district since 2021 to create a program that will assist the students who are struggling.

DreamEd will help the students from underprivileged, low-income families get back on track for educational success and hope to see incremental growth in confidence, demeanor, concentration, and retention. This will positively impact the students’ output and progress in school and may further identify and evaluate additional areas of support required for the student to reach their optimal potential. Education is key to building strong communities, and we want those who may not have the resources and opportunities to have that solid foundation.

AARC has received its first grant for the DreamEd program from the Mary Allen Lindsey Branan Foundation. The Foundation was created under the will of Charles I. Branan, who passed away in 1929, and named the foundation in loving memory of his mother (1830-1915) who was a widow caring for seven children. The grant provided by the Foundation supports organizations generally in Georgia to promote the relief of suffering and other charitable purposes in the following program areas: public/society benefit, religion, environment, human services, and health.

With funding for the DreamEd program, AARC can further advance the Foundation’s mission to promote the relief of suffering through empowerment and strength to all communities by providing culturally competent support services that enhance self-sufficiency and quality of life; providing human services, education, and job placement to the poor and disadvantaged members of the community in the metro Atlanta area; and assisting the elderly, jobless, single mothers, and unskilled people to break through language, cultural, and social barriers to obtain self-sufficiency and stability. AARC is dedicated to serving individuals and families to be productive citizens throughout the metro Atlanta area with an array of support services and programs. The other programs that AARC works on feed into the education program as it has been established repeatedly that education can help families get out of the cycle of homelessness and poverty.