Once a way to transport patients needing emergency care, a very special ambulance will serve the community of Denver in a new way: by providing mental health services to local LGBTQ+ youth.
The ambulance is run by Joy as Resistance, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to promoting the hope and joy of LGBTQ+ youth through comprehensive mental health and wellness services.
Originating in response to a lack of services for LGBTQ+ youth in the Colorado community, the organisation formed in collaboration between community youth and leaders that revealed specific needs and desires that needed addressing.
They work to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth services are equitably available, equitably accessible, and build hope and promote joy as resistance. These services include partnering with schools and other nonprofits, a mentorship program and individual and group mental health sessions.
Their newest and ingenious service has been cruising the streets of the Denver metro area to serve LGBTQ+ youth since November 2021.
“So the mobile clinic was kind of an option to eliminate the barrier of transportation as much as possible,” said Bre Donnelly, the founder of Joy as Resistance, in an interview with The Colorado Sun. “Even if it’s in your neighbourhood or at your school, as opposed to in central Denver and an office. [The mobile clinic] is a lot more accessible for our young people.”
After stumbling upon the ambulance on Craigslist, Donnelly decided that this vehicle in great condition would serve as a magnificent alternative. With a grant from The Colorado Trust, a health equity foundation, the nonprofit bought the retired ambulance and converted it into a mobile mental health clinic.
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As a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, Donnelly understands the need for improved mental health services based on her own experiences growing up in Colorado and becoming a school social worker in Denver Public Schools.
“I was a queer youth in Colorado, so I’m from Colorado. And so mental health has been a big part of my journey,” explained Donnelly. “So I know, like, firsthand how isolating it can be to be queer in a space where you’re not comfortable being out or open or even having anybody to process with or any adults [with whom] you’re like, ‘Hey, you’re queer, what’s that about?'”
Part of the ambulance’s transformation into a safe space for kids included adding pillows, blankets, artwork, and…a disco ball!
In the emotional party to launch the mobile mental health clinic at Denver’s Central Park, Donnelly held back tears, announcing, “I really wanted to take this concept as joy and spread it in every which direction and in any way I could, personally, professionally…any space I was in to bring that joy.”
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For now, the clinicians use the ambulance, newly christened Joyride, to meet their current clients where they are. In the future, the clinic may meet the community’s needs in other ways by parking in various parts of the city on certain days or partnering with schools or organisations on particular days.
“To have something like this that could just pull up…I don’t need to use the space in a school. You don’t need to logistically or operationally figure out all of those issues. We can just pull this up. They can come in, they can go back into school, and that’s done,” said Donnelly.
With work that is driven by passion, the goal of this nonprofit to be inspired by their community is evident in the undertaking of this wonderful project. Through this creative initiative, the ambulance is a method by which Joy as Resistance can better ensure LGBTQ+ youth have adequate care in the Denver area.
In lieu of the strain that the pandemic has placed on young people’s mental health, innovative services like this are vital to better serving LGBTQ+ youth.
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