Gandara Center partners with small business owners in Massachusetts to provide mental health support

A Latino economic development group in Springfield is working with mental health counselors to support small businesses.

Latinos are not used to casually talking about their mental health, said Andrew Melendez, who leads the Springfield office of the Latino Economic Development Corporation.

“We don’t say to our abuelas and our fathers and mothers, ‘Hey, guess what my therapist told me,'” he said. “It’s not a normal thing. What we want to do is normalize and say, ‘This is totally fine.'”

During the pandemic, business owners — even those that are doing well — are under enormous pressure, and often face the pressure to open a restaurant or store, Melendez said.

That’s why his organization is now working with the Gándara Center in Springfield, which specializes in culturally sensitive mental health care and has many Latinx and Spanish-speaking counselors.

“There may be people in the past who have sought help, whether it’s a language barrier or a cultural barrier, and they feel disconnected from the person they’re talking to,” said Jade Rivera McFarlin, vice president of development and community relations at Gandara. “It’s an important part of having that comfort zone.”

As for overcoming mental health stigma, Melendez said his organization’s business coaches would attest that building a relationship with a counselor is part of everyday health, not just during a crisis.

Both agencies hope to expand the pilot program, called Building Together, beyond the greater Springfield and make it available to business owners across the state.

Full disclosure, the Gandara Center is an underwriter for New England Public Media, although this does not affect our news coverage.

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