Project aims for ‘Stigma Free IWV’

Candidates focus on community service as part of leadership training

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Project  aims for  ‘Stigma Free IWV’A group of up-and-comers from various sectors of the community are collaborating to open a dialogue that could help end the sense of shame, and create hope, for those afflicted by mental illness.

“The hope is that, through education, talking about it and taking positive action, we can shift the social barriers for those living with mental-health conditions,” said Chris Hill. “Because it’s here locally. The mountains may keep a lot out, but this knows no walls.”

The public is invited to an inaugural meeting Tuesday, March 13, at 6 p.m. in the Community Resource Center at Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union.

“We call our project ‘Stigma Free IWV,’ but we want this to be more than a project — we see it as a movement. To fully understand the impact that we as a group want to make, we need to break down what ‘stigma’ is.”

He cited the definition as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.”

“As our name suggests, we’re aiming to encourage a community that is free of stigma,” said Hill. “The ‘mark’ that the definition refers to is a topic that now more than ever needs to break free of its taboo status.”

The group will meet the second Tuesday of each month. In March the forum will focus on school-based mental health issues. April will feature a program on stress, anxiety and depression. In May the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness will offer personal perspectives of those struggling with mental illness.

The other architects of the movement include Alex Diaz of Desert Valleys, Lisa Stephens of Cerro Coso Community College, Steve Martinez of Ridgecrest Charter School and Rajanikant Jonnalagadda of Searles Valley Minerals. Completion of the project is a requirement of the Leadership Ridgecrest program — a training program that engages and grooms prospective leaders in the Indian Wells Valley.

“We’re not planning on stopping, though, when this group project ends,” said Hill.

“Our greatest goal, thought it may never be known, would be for this to make a difference in even one person’s life. Because you can never know the true impact of what that different means — a ripple-effect of endless possibilities.”

Leadership Ridgecrest was launched last year by Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason. It was patterned after a successful Bakersfield model that has seen the highest leaders in government and industry graduate from its program.

Candidates are mentored by community leaders, informed on a variety of local issues and challenged to complete a project that services their community.

“I feel like I have been provided a great opportunity through my employment,” said Hill, who is the office manager of Gary Charlon’s State Farm office. “Gary is, in my opinion, one of the most amazing human beings. His integrity and dedication shine through in every aspect of his professional and personal life.

“So I already have this amazing mentor that I have access to, and I’m blessed there, but I wanted to be a part of this program because one day I want to be the kind of leader he is.”

Hill, a self-described Navy brat, has spent most of his life in Ridgecrest. After marrying his high school sweetheart, Tammy — which whom he is raising four children — he settled down to make a life here.

Like many of his “classmates,” Hill was tapped as a candidate because of his investment in the community. He serves as a Boy Scout Cub Scout Pack leader, a volunteer in his church, a contributor to Ridge Project, a supporter of the American Legion and co-president of the Murray Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization.

“What I have appreciated about Leadership Ridgecrest has been hearing from people who have proven they have what it takes to be a leader — specifically in a community like ours,” said Hill.

In addition to learning more about the community, Hill said, candidates are given an opportunity to develop skills and insights into how they can better serve their community.

“For me, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is how important it is to be a team player.” Hill credited his disciplined work ethic with getting him noticed, “but this program, and especially this group project, has showed me that it takes a team to make things work.”

Watch future editions of the News Review for more information about Leadership Ridgecrest.

Pictured: Chris Hill of Gary Charlon State Farm and a candidate for the Leadership Ridgecrest program. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2018-03-02