by Marrin Scalone, LUV Editor
“Let people inspire you. Be flexible and non- judgmental. How can you creatively tell their story? … Meet them where they are. Understand the environment in which they feel safe and heard.”
Jennifer Farinholt is a Behavioral Health Wellness Consultant with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services. Throughout her tenure, she’s spearheaded numerous campaigns, initiatives, and trainings for substance use prevention, mental health, and community education. But nothing has been as meaningful to her as Activate Your Wellness (AYW), a statewide campaign helping communities understand the 8 Dimensions of Wellness through human-centered media and narratives.
Watching the AYW documentary series, it was immediately clear to me that it shares the goal of our LUV Stories: to foster meaningful, connective engagement and transformation within communities through sharing personal journeys. The AYW documentaries highlight different representations of wellness across regions of the state. They feature profound and intimate reflections from community members and the mental health agency workers of the area.
After watching the Activate Your Wellness Documentary on Lynchburg, Virginia, I knew that behind the stories lay a story in an of itself. Cultivating that level of vulnerability and capturing the human experience in such an authentic way is no accident. It requires intention, a great deal of work, and an even greater deal of heart. I already knew Jennifer had that heart in my time working alongside her, and I was thrilled to learn about the team of storytellers that help her.
Creation Through Collaboration
Dawn Rigaud and her husband Raphael are co-founders of Rigaud Global Company (RGC), a marketing company with the deep-rooted mission of health promotion and social behavior change. RGC was selected to produce and direct the Activate Your Wellness creative assets. I asked Jennifer what made the married duo stick out from the pool of interested applicants.
“You could really tell they were creative,” Jennifer said. “Even though we had to interview online, their heart really came through. Honestly, at that point we were starting from scratch. We understood we wanted this to be a collaborative process, and through their work samples we could see the human-centered approach we were looking for. It was very authentic.”
Dawn explained more of her background, which revealed this authenticity and perfect fit Jennifer described:
“Leading up to this, I was doing communications and marketing for different nonprofits, hospital systems, it’s just always been person-centered. After being let go because of COVID, I didn’t know what I’d do. My husband had a videography company at the time, and he’s always had the entrepreneur spirit and drive. He was like ‘we can do this, you and I together will be able to create something really great that can help people.’ So we went full steam ahead. And we’ve been able to work with such amazing people.”
Dawn shared more of her lived experience behind her company’s creative passions, “I personally do have depression, OCD, and anxiety, so I feel like that’s helped me to understand and approach these stories. It’s not only what we do, it’s helping me, honestly. Sometimes I also need those reminders.”
I echoed the importance of empathy within mental health work, “That’s so important within the prevention space to make sure there’s lived experience. The reality is we all have experience with our mental health- we all have brains! At some point, we’ll all deal with a mental health challenge just as we will all deal with a physical health challenge. That vulnerability from the creator’s position is vital to this work, thank you for sharing.”
Honing In on Humanity
The AYW documentaries give their subjects the much needed space to tell their stories. I asked Jennifer and Dawn more about this process, and how they cultivated such vulnerable, emotional interactions in production.
“Go into conversations in a non-judgmental way.” Dawn said. “Anything can happen in a conversation. Let people inspire you. Be flexible and nonjudgmental. How can you creatively tell their story? … Meet them where they are. Understand the environment in which they feel safe and heard.
When we did these shoots, many of them took all day. These were long days, and everyone was just so raw, and the things people said were so profound. We had a script, we’d ask people questions about themselves, then let them go from there.
For instance, one of our interviewees was a motorcyclist. So, we physically took him outside to ask him questions on his motorcycle, because that’s where he feels most himself. Another one is a spoken word artist, so she wrote something for the interview and performed it onscreen.”
This is the true essence of trauma-informed care. Instead of forcing an individual to fit themselves into a space, ask them where they feel most safe in themselves and cultivate that environment before engaging in conversation.
Jennifer added that another huge element of vulnerability is the involvement of pre-existing connections and strong relationships. “We know the people who have put in the work in building these relationships for years. We approached them and said we wanted to tell community stories and talk about wellness, and it took their trust to produce these films.”
Emotion in Motion
Building trust to elicit vulnerability is always a tricky tightrope to walk when creating these kinds of projects.
“We had the discussion of distinguishing the difference between showcasing vulnerability and exploitation.” Jennifer said. “But the bottom line is it’s beautiful when people feel comfortable enough to express their emotions. They trusted us and we all took a shared risk with one another.”
Raw emotion in mental health work is so needed. Sometimes, burnout can be a result of the stripping of emotion, when we’re not given permission to feel the effects of this type of work and the devastating statistics we fight every day to defeat. These numbers aren’t math equations to solve, they’re lives to honor. Human-centric narratives like the AYW documentaries are a key to alleviating some of that burnout. Behind the trainings, the campaigns, and the programs, we are all just people and communities with a common desire to heal.
“I think it shows the work that sometimes doesn’t get noticed or presented.” Jennifer said. “In the future, we hope to form some cohorts in the community, we want to keep diving into these themes. We’d like to explore what tools or resources are most helpful, what we can do to keep assisting in the work that’s being done out there.”
Activate Your Wellness is only just beginning. Their website includes educational activities on the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, journal prompts, resource guides, and more. You can find the docuseries posted on the campaign’s YouTube page.
For more information on Activate Your Wellness or to get involved, please reach out to Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Rigaud Global Company productions, please contact Dawn at email@example.com.