For Deena Nyer Mendlowitz, content and social media specialist at Orange Onions, volunteering allows her to feel connected to her community and to Judaism. Whether it’s lending her professional skills or building upon her personal experiences, volunteering is a way for her to give back in the ways she has already received from her community.

“We all have a responsibility to play an active role in our community – to find a place where you have a privilege and using that as a way to change things in the world,” she said. “When you’re struggling in any way, one of the easiest things that will help you is helping someone else. Being part of a community matters. So, growing up, that was something always instilled in me.”

Mendlowitz’s community involvement involves her own personal mental health journey and how that connects her to others.

“It was the stuff from my own personal journey, wanting a way to help other people for them to feel less alone and for me to feel less alone,” she explained.

Creating a monthly live comedy talk show called, “Mental Illness and Friends,” Mendlowitz goes to a venue and talks about her experiences with mental health. She also invites comedians, songwriters and artists to “share something about their creativity and also the impact mental illness has had on their own life.”

Besides the comedy show, Mendlowitz also travels to speak about her experiences.

She added, “I’m trying to destigmatize and take away the discrimination people have towards mental illness.”

Mendlowitz said the human connections she’s made with others is the most rewarding part of her civic involvement.

“For me, it’s anytime someone either tells me that something I’ve written or said has helped make them feel less alone, has helped their family understand what they are going through or helped them seek treatment and removed some of the shame they felt,” she explained.

For Mendlowitz, community involvement has shaped her into a better individual.

“Any time you’re able to create your own community and help each other, you feel better,” she noted. “(Volunteering) is not going to take away my illness, but it’s also never going to make it worse. So, when you have an activity that will not make things worse and almost always make it better, that matters. When I was really struggling a lot, Susan Messing, an improviser and mensch in Chicago, would always tell me ‘If nothing is working, go out and help somebody else.’ That’s why we’re given voices. Not everyone can speak up, but that’s something I can do. The fact I can do it through comedy and joy is an amazing feeling.”

As for the future, Mendlowitz would like to connect with younger generations about their mental health.

“My whole thing is to make it OK at every age to talk about mental health and even stuff like suicidal thoughts and those complicated feelings,” she said. “How do we supply young kids with the skills that took me years in therapy and going through so much struggle (to learn) so that they have it before it’s too late? So, that’s what I’d like to focus my time on, how we make this accessible for all ages.”

– Becky Raspe

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