‘Resilience Rally’ helps Kansas City learn to cope with trauma and mental stress

Four-year-old Tommy Kutz was on the lookout for a big, blue, furry cookie monster. His little brother, Raleigh, relaxed in a stroller. Their mom collected a handful of pamphlets related to mental wellness.

The Kutz family joined hundreds of other Kansas City area residents Saturday afternoon at a “Resilience Rally” at Arrowhead Stadium.

“There is so much going on, raffles, music, free food. It’s family related and the whole focus is on overall health,” said Jenny Kutz of Belton. “For us, the big draw is Cookie Monster.”

The Resilience Rally was a Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Healthy KC Initiative in partnership with Trauma Matters KC and Sesame Street in Communities, which selected the city along with two others for a pilot program offering resources for coping with mental stress.

Chiefs mascot KC Wolf and Cookie Monster showed up to help out. They shimmied to hip hop music and collected hugs from children and adults.

More than 50 local agencies and groups that provide services connected to mental and physical health shared information booklets, pamphlets, posters and conversation on coping with stress, depression and trauma.

“We all have adversity, stress in out lives,” said Jasmin Williams, who organized the event for the Kansas City Chamber. “The idea is to connect with community members and provide adults with education about how to be resilient so they can teach their children resiliency — how to bounce back after some adversity.”

Kansas City, she said, “is one of 14 communities across the country working on building trauma informed communities and resilient communities.”

Mayor Sly James said he was glad to see so many turn for an event he sees as a step toward building healthier communities.

“The fact that we have so many organizations here that provide support and resources and resilience care for people and kids, in particular, is an absolute fabulous imprint of the Kansas City character,” James said. “It shows that we understand, and we care, and we are willing to act.”

Williams said research shows mental health and physical health are linked. People living with mental stress and children who experience trauma — such as witnessing violence — are more likely to experience a wide range of chronic physical ailments such as heart disease and diabetes.

Likewise, people living with chronic physical health conditions are susceptible to being depressed and mentally stressed which can diminish a person’s quality of life.

When people know how to access resources to help them cope, Williams said, that builds a healthy community. “Building resilience is a huge piece to combating and overcoming adversities,” she said.

In Kansas City, one in four adults deal with mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health says roughly one in five children in the country either currently, or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder.

The resources to help people in Kansas City are varied.

Rachelle Norman, president of KC Metro Music Therapist came to let attendees know the power of music in coping with mental stress.

“Music is a way to communicate and express feelings without using words,” Norman said speaking over the drums and other percussion instruments that children were pounding on behind her.

“Using music is a way to build resiliency,” Norman said. “Most people know that, but when we get to a dark place we forget what tools we have to cope.”

Jamie Katz, who works in prevention services at the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said the rally “celebrates resilience” and is important because it’s the type of event that “can help to break the stigma” often attached to mental illness.

“Trauma and mental illness know no class, race or ethnicity, it can happen any where to any body,” she said.

Dorothy Patterson, a social worker with Kansas City Public Schools, said that’s why she attended the event.

“In our schools we are trying to become more trauma informed,” she said. “We want everyone to know that mental health is a big part of children’s success.”

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc