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Strengthening Roots, Building Community: Connections' New Executive Director

Connections’ Executive Director’s job encompasses many levels. There are budgets and policies and meetings with state officials, but also member contact, errands, and being the ultimate on-call for any emergency large and small. We are excited to introduce someone who is up for this challenge, Connections Peer Support Center’s new ED, Jacky McDonough. Inside you can find out about her background, her hopes for Connections, and even a little bit about roller derby!

Jacky and Tanner

I found out about Intentional Peer Support at a conference, where I had the opportunity to speak with some of the founders and pioneers of IPS and fell in love. I tried to get my employer at the time interested but was not successful. I’m looking forward to truly learning and living it.

When I first started working in mental health, I was not well, but did not yet identify as a peer. It was not until five or six years later that I decided to go in the direction of peer support. I began with doing community integration employment coaching. I’ve always started from the point of view of building community. It was the word “community” in the title that attracted me. You may have heard the saying that loneliness is as detrimental to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Isolation puts us at risk; community is a solution to that. It’s the concept of community that has been a constant in my life. For me, work is a really big part of my recovery.

I have discovered the power each of us have to influence our own wellness.

I have a 14-year-old dog named Tanner. He has handled the seasons of my life, all the years that I have been in the trenches with my mental health. Movement has also been very important to my wellness, up there with sleep as one of my pillars, though I struggle with it a lot. I was an athlete through my 30’s, but I always had a team sport- I love roller skating, so I used to do roller derby in Boston.

So that’s how I came to dance, looking for movement I could do on my own. I teach a dance class called Journey Dance; picture a yoga-inspired free form dance. Because I am me, I didn’t just learn dance, I had to teach it as well. I think I thought that if I taught it, I would have to show up for the classes. And I do.

In one of her podcasts, Tara Brach, psychologist and renowned mindfulness teacher, talks about traveling to California and visiting the giant redwoods, where she observed that these “massive trees have really shallow roots. What allows them to survive the winds and so on, is that the root systems are completely interwoven. They hold each other up; we need to do the same with each other.

I’ve come to Connections with the hope of finding community and helping to build a redwood forest. There is so much divisiveness in our world today, and it is not working, and it is really scary. Fear is one emotion, though, that keeps us from moving forward; it can be paralyzing. I believe, like many others, that love is what heals all, and through “connections.“ Just being in the presence of others and naming what we are feeling, can draw us closer together and standing like the redwoods.

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