There’s often a stigma surrounding mental health and farming communities. Coupled with access challenges to mental health care, it’s a significant issue that state leaders hope to change.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and other state leaders made the announcement at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur last week that FFA groups will now be eligible for $1,000 grants to fund mental health programs in schools and rural communities.
Up to 20 grants will be available from the Illinois FFA Foundation beginning this fall in partnership with the Illinois University School of Medicine.
The announcement follows the Pritzker Administration’s support of farmers, including paying FFA membership dues for every student enrolled in agriculture classes, declaring that participation in agricultural events qualifies as excused absences for 4-H and FFA members, re-launching “Homegrown by Heroes,” and providing cover crop adoption funding through the ‘Fall Covers for Spring Savings Program.’
“As governor, as a father, and as someone who has personally witnessed the mental health epidemic among family and friends, there is nothing more important than making sure every Illinoisan has access to the mental health services they need to lead happier and healthier lives,” said Pritzker. “Our greatest problems require our most creative solutions — and I am confident that this grant program will simultaneously break down barriers and open up doors for our state’s number one providers.”
The Farm Family Resource Initiative was initially created as a pilot program covering six Illinois counties, providing telehealth mental health access and a helpline. Following its overwhelming success, the FFRI was expanded to cover all 102 counties in the state. In addition to the telehealth helpline, family members can now access six free telehealth mental health sessions.
The program will also fund up to 20 grants at $1,000 each to support FFA chapters implementing local initiatives encouraging access to mental health resources. Grants will be used to increase awareness of mental health and wellness in schools and communities across Illinois. All FFA chapters in Illinois are eligible to apply for the grant, and grant applications will be available from the Illinois FFA Foundation in fall 2023.
“Thanks to Governor Pritzker’s leadership, FFA membership has jumped from 23,000 to over 41,000,” said Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II. “This talented pool of leaders are the perfect messengers for this important task.”
The FFRI funding resulted from IDOA’s grant application for the “Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network” funded by the United States Department of Agriculture National Food and Agriculture. Funds are provided to state agriculture departments to connect individuals engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs.
“FFA members are creative thinkers and know and understand their communities,” said FFA Executive Director Mindy Bunselmeyer. “I’m excited to see the unique ways our membership will look to tackle this challenge.”
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