Meet 4 people starting conversations about culturally competent mental health care in Fort Wayne

May is Mental Health Awareness month. With it comes the opportunity to enhance cultural competency in healthcare and further normalize the open discussion of what can be taboo topics.
 
For the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to grapple with their mental healthcare in the same way they often do with their physical healthcare. Perhaps, as a result, more people in Fort Wayne are amplifying their voices and coping tools for working through mental health challenges.
  
So who are a few of the names and faces helping Fort Wayne residents cope with their mental health and doing it in culturally competent ways? We spoke with four.

Kibwe Cooper, the host of 'Empower You Podcast', works on a podcast in his studio at home.
Kibwe Cooper
Kibwe Cooper is the entrepreneur and host of the Empower You Podcast. Originally from Gary,  Cooper relocated to Fort Wayne to pursue his degree in Music Technology and Audio for Film and TV. In 2009, he graduated with a degree in Creative Arts from the University of St. Francis.  

Cooper started his podcast in May 2020, and since then has released more than 100 episodes, featuring local community members and experts in a variety of fields. His conversations range from pursuing dreams with Johnny Perez, owner of the Cal-Mex restaurant Mercado to the origins of Juneteenth with the founder of the Art Leadership Center Adrian Curry, and self-discovery with mental health expert, author, and TEDx speaker Dr. Curtis Jasper.
 
Cooper says, for him, the podcast is a way to help young Black and Brown people in Fort Wayne and beyond by providing mentorship, knowledge, and helping them unlearn some of the traumas that have shaped their lives.
 
“The Empower You podcast is about mentorship, and part of mentorship is asking hard questions,” he says. “I hope that as people are listening to Empower You Podcast, they're learning that it's okay to have courageous conversations; that it's okay to be flawed, and that they should expect difficult transitional periods because that's just the only way to learn.”
 
Kibwe Cooper, the host of 'Empower You Podcast', works on a podcast in his studio at home.
Through his podcast, Cooper has found that mental health and the value of therapy plays a greater role in his discussions than he anticipated.
 
“The deeper we went into these different episodes, we kept returning to the fact that, we’ve got to dig deep, and some of that deep work you could do by yourself, but then some of that you need help with,” Cooper says. “Your friends don't have those tools; your parents definitely don't have those tools, and more times than not, a lot of the things that we suffer from came by the hand of our parents, with our parent’s purview, or of the absence of parents. You just have to dig up all of what's down there, and as far as I see it, that is the essence of mental health. Seeing what's beneath the layers to structurally fix what's wrong.”
 
Through his work, Cooper speaks publicly to students at local high schools on subjects that aren’t typically discussed in relation to mental health, including financial competency and access to resources for self-empowerment.
 
Kibwe Cooper, the host of 'Empower You Podcast', works on a podcast in his studio at home.
“I take people through this exercise where we're asking you what you're interested in life and what your expertise is,” Cooper says. “Now, for some young people, they may not feel like they have expertise. When I say expertise, I mean: What are you naturally good at that you're also curious about? Take what you're interested in and what you have some skill in, and see how you can grow that and find other people who can help you grow that.”
 
Cooper stresses the importance of seeking out books, mentorship, and knowledge in areas outside of the traditional academic requirements that college pathways students are guided toward. During the course of his podcast, he speaks on topics he hopes will help listeners discover who they are and how they want to grow as individuals. He also encourages them to find a mentor, guide, or therapist to provide insight into their lives.
 
“These are conversations where you can start to see yourself in a different way,” he says. “You need to get a coach or therapist; you need to have somebody in your corner who can see farther down the field than you so that they can direct you because all you see is right what's in front of you.”
 
Portrait of Kibwe Cooper, host of the mental health podcast 'Empower You Podcast'.
In the future, Cooper hopes to grow his podcast network and provide more opportunities for people to discuss issues closest to them. He also hopes to give greater insight into different people and cultures from voices within those communities.
 
“My secret motive behind everything that I do is to see more Black and Brown young people doing better,” Cooper says. “I think we get a really bad shake, and we always have to fit into some box because nobody else is making their path clear for us, so we have to make it ourselves. My goal with my podcast is to leave no stone unturned. I want you to be able to find what you're looking for, even if it's just an hour-long conversation. Every one of those conversations can reframe the way you think about something that's going on in your life…. Because there's a deficiency in the way that we communicate within our own communities, it creates blind spots, and our young people are falling into them like potholes, which is why the prisons and jails are full of young Black and Brown men and women. If I can provide a free resource to mentorship that impacts their ability to perform in high school, their ability to have a future out of high school, their output into society for themselves and their family, it starts with having conversations with people who have gotten out.”
 
Portrait of Jordan Bishop, an employee at Bowen Center at her home.
Jordan Bishop
For many professionals in the mental health field, the work is deeply personal. While navigating the struggles of clients, they might find themselves dealing with their own mental health challenges and learning opportunities along the way.
 
That’s often the case for Jordan Bishop, a multi-media specialist who works at the corporate office for the Bowen Center. The organization offers a variety of mental health services, including therapy, autism-related service, addiction recovery, student assistance, and more. Prior to her current role, Bishop was a social worker and skills coach there. 
 
A graduate of Huntington University, she is also neurodivergent and openly lives with ADHD. 
 
Jordan Bishop, an employee at Bowen Center, works on collecting gear for her next photoshoot for Bowen Center, at her home.
“My own personal mental health journey has been kind of a wild one,” Bishop says. “I was at a residential care facility in high school for a year, and it’s been a challenge trying to adapt and find my place. After that year, I felt a shift, and my own personal journey has allowed me to have passion toward mental health. Both my mom and my sister are therapists, and after my experience in high school, I knew I wanted to try my hand in the social work field.”
 
Today, Bishop blends her artistic side with her passion for mental health as a multi-media specialist at Bowen Center, documenting stories of those who are involved with its programs. Through this work, she hopes to spotlight people, like herself, who are working through their own struggles as a way to help destigmatize mental health challenges.
 
“As a social worker, I really wanted to experience and hear people's stories,” Bishop says. “So as a multi-media specialist now, I’ve been pushing for us to feature real people. There are a lot of instances where people want to share their stories. We just interviewed someone about their addiction recovery. I think we are slowly getting there, and I think that’s going to help to destigmatize the issues.”
 
Jordan Bishop, an employee at Bowen Center, works on collecting gear for her next photoshoot for Bowen Center, at her home.
Bishop says that during her time as a social worker, providing others the energy they needed to work through their emotional baggage has helped her learn to define her own boundaries, too. She says this is particularly important for those who are neurodivergent. She is currently learning to balance her mental and physical health by signing up to become a yoga-certified teacher, and she often finds herself applying her knowledge in social work to raising her own children.
 
“Being a social worker has helped me reinforce the practice of being present in the moments with my daughter, taking in the person who she is and making her feel valued,” she says.
 
In October 2021, The Bowen Center received a $3.9 million dollar grant to expand its mental health and recovery services. Bishop says the center is continuing to grow as it works toward moving into physical healthcare in addition to its current mental health services and continuing its expansion around Fort Wayne and Huntington.
 
Portrait of Alice Jordan-Miles, Director of Bien Estar Sin Fronteras (Wellness Without Borders) next to the suicide prevention ribbon at Purdue Fort Wayne.
Alice Jordan-Miles
For the past 15 years, Alice Jordan-Miles has worked with Purdue University Fort Wayne. She leads the Behavioral Health and Family Studies Institute, the Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition, and she is the project leader for the Indiana statewide L.O.S.S (Local Outreach for Suicide Survivors) team network.
 
“I've been working really hard to make those efforts more culturally competent,” says Jordan-Miles, who identifies as a member of Fort Wayne’s Latinx community.

In 2021, Jordan-Miles became the new Director of Bien Estar Sin Fronteras (Wellness Without Borders), which provides free mental health services to uninsured Latino populations in Northeast Indiana in their native language by native-born therapists. It is located in Connect Allen County on the bottom floor of the old Sears building at 201 E. Rudisill Blvd., and it is funded by support from The Lutheran Foundation, the Behavioral Health and Family Studies Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, and Parkview Behavioral Health. 

Alice Jordan-Miles, Director of Bien Estar Sin Fronteras (Wellness Without Borders) takes notes in her office at Purdue Fort Wayne.
Since launching, the organization has seen continued growth in the number of community members reaching out for treatment and learning more about their own mental health. Jordan-Miles attributes this success to support from the Lutheran Foundation, which is funding the program at nearly 95 percent for the next three years, as well as to storytelling support from the local news organization, El Mexicano, which has helped in regularly sharing information on the resources the organization provides. Jordan-Miles says this has helped in making Bien Estar Sin Fronteras’s work known in Northeast Indiana’s Latinx community.

 “I can tell you that we have a waiting list,” she says. “The clients who we are serving are embracing our efforts and understanding the value of the services we're bringing to the community. They understand they need to embrace their mental health. They are stepping out of their comfort zone to ask for help for their mental health and to not be ashamed of it.”
Portrait of Alice Jordan-Miles, Director of Bien Estar Sin Fronteras (Wellness Without Borders) next to the suicide prevention ribbon at Purdue Fort Wayne.
Hearing from clients directly about how therapy is saving their lives provides Jordan-Miles with the encouragement she and her bilingual and diverse team of therapists need to keep going.

“It’s only possible because of the amazing and remarkable team that I have among my therapists,” she says. “Our clients feel safe. They're embracing this opportunity to get mentally well and to embrace the process. That really takes a lot of initiative, guts, and energy.”
 
In addition to therapy and support groups, Bien Estar recently started a mental health podcast in hopes of spotlighting and destigmatizing many of the mental health issues faced within the Latino community.
 
In the future, Jordan-Miles hopes to work with other organizations in the city and state, including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Coalition. It is her goal to provide more opportunities for Latinx residents to pursue a college education and to increase the number of Latinx therapists in the Fort Wayne area.
 
So far, Bien Estar has found success in helping to form mental health groups at local high schools, such as Bishop Luers and South Side, as well as at Abbot Elementary.
 
Gladys Calderon, a social media creator whose content on mental health has generated 75,000 views on TikTok, works on practicing for an upcoming video in her home.
Gladys Calderon
Gladys Calderon graduated with her Masters in Counselor Education in 2020 from Purdue Fort Wayne and now works with Bien Estar. She is a proponent of spiritual healing, something she says has helped her work through her own struggles. In addition to her work in local schools, Calderon is a social media creator whose content on mental health has generated more than 75,000 views on TikTok.
 
She is a student group coordinator for Bien Estar, who works with both elementary and high school students—a demographic facing heightened mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. A CDC survey finds that 37 percent of high school students report their mental health has been “not good” during the pandemic. Along with these pervasive factors, Calderon’s work focuses on the unique challenges facing Latinx students, in particular.
 
Gladys Calderon, a social media creator whose content on mental health has generated 75,000 views on TikTok, works on practicing for an upcoming video in her home.
“We look at anything that leads back to mental health and try to link that to Latinidad and some of the obstacles Latinos inherently face,” she says.
 
After experiencing dismissal from her physician on mental health struggles she’s personally faced (something many have experienced), Calderon sought treatment from both an integrated doctor and an Ayuverda doctor. Ayuverda is a natural system of medicine that she says has helped her through problems she had been unable to work through.
 
Through yoga, meditation, and reconnecting to her religious roots via introspection, Calderon has found ways to cope with anxiety-induced panic attacks and other day-to-day struggles.
 
Gladys Calderon, a social media creator whose content on mental health has generated 75,000 views on TikTok, works on practicing for an upcoming video in her home.
“When you are doing yoga, you’re not really thinking about anything else,” she says. “You are thinking about your journey in that moment…. Not only does it help us to get into our bodies and out of our heads, but also, it helps us to pay attention to how we think…. Ever since I went on a more spiritual path, that's been a game-changer with strengthening my relationship with God.”
 
For Calderon, being spiritual does not inherently mean being religious.
 
“I think our vocabulary matters a lot,” she says. “Some people say the ‘universe’ instead of god or ‘manifestation’ instead of prayer. I think whatever helps people make sense of it all.”
 
Overall, she emphasizes the collective consciousness and the way people tap into the energy around them. In thinking of small ways people can learn to help themselves, she talks about taking time in the early morning, when the world feels at rest, to take a break from the feelings they might encounter throughout the day.
 
Gladys Calderon, a social media creator whose content on mental health has generated 75,000 views on TikTok, works on practicing for an upcoming video in her home.
“Around 4 or 5 a.m., most people are sleeping in our neighborhoods and state,” she says. “In the early morning hours, instead of feeling the hecticness of the collective, we instead feel the calm and restfulness of the collective. This helps us be introspective, view our own feelings, and connect with ourselves more.”

This story is a part of Input Fort Wayne's Solutions Series, exploring how our community is addressing residents’ essential needs during the pandemic. It is underwritten with support from the NiSource FoundationNIPSCOBrightpoint, and St. Joseph Community Health Foundation.