Each of us has walked our own path to join the Live Oak Mental Wellness Project team.
Monica M. Olsen
My involvement in this organization was born of necessity. I lost my 15-year-old daughter to suicide in August of 2020. It continues to be the living nightmare I can never escape. All I can do is my best. My best to continue in a life devoid of my firstborn while everyone else’s grow up. My best to ask for help when I need it. But above all, my best to take care of the people around me. We had done literally everything we could for Lila (as evidenced by the checklist the sherriff's deputies used in my living room the day we lost her), including ensuring she attended regular sessions of the nearly-impossible-to-schedule therapy, but one thing we knew was missing from her life, especially during quarantine, was meaningful connection to those outside of our household. She would text with acquaintances here and there, but she had struggled to find a place she belonged. Nearly a year after losing her, I was on a crisis line and was informed that there was exactly one grief support group in the Antelope Valley. It met at a church in Lancaster on Thursday mornings at 10:30 and included those dealing with all types of grief. I worked standard business hours in Palmdale during the week, so not only was this time not an option for me, but I had found that the grief born of the loss of my Sweet Doodlebug to suicide brought with it issues so specific that I didn't always feel a direct connection with people who were dealing with other sources of grief. *Meanwhile, 5 minutes from my workplace* There was a support group for parents who had lost a child to suicide, and it met half an hour after I got off of work. It was exactly what I needed, but I wouldn't learn about it for a year and a half, which could have been too late for me. This is why Live Oak's early goals are threefold: To help individuals and families navigate the difficult world of finding a therapist and getting started with them. To connect them with existing organizations in the AV that can benefit them by meeting physical or emotional needs, such as that support group that was designed for exactly me. To plant them into a social community that is the right fit for them so they can establish roots and genuinely feel that they have somewhere to belong. It is my life’s purpose to prove to everyone I can that you are not alone.
I am a US Army Veteran of the Viet Nam war where I spent a year in the field with the combat infantry. I have struggled with the PTSD that goes with that experience. I also have a number of close friends with mental issues of various types, a number of whom were almost killed by these issues. I am very aware that many people, either personally or with close family members that are suffering, do not seek out the help they need to live a better life because of the stigma that goes with such an admission. It was 30 years before I even admitted to myself that I had a problem. If I can help even one person find a connection with someone that can make their life better, then I will have earned the peace I have found.
Board Vice President (Interim)
I’ll be completely transparent. I’m someone who has shied away from therapy for myself and my kids in the past. I told myself I was strong enough to take care of my own issues and could love my kids enough through theirs. The reality was, I was daunted by the prospect of getting therapy because I didn’t know where to begin and I thought somehow it made me less of a mother. When my son was around 9 or 10, he was battling a lot of anger at home and I knew that he should see someone but when I called our insurance, I just got the runaround. So I gave up and just kept trying to deal with it on my own, having talked myself out of needing it. Later, my youngest daughter would suffer depression and social anxiety, and while I finally got a referral to a therapist, she could only be seen once a month, and it just sort of fizzled out. I never knew that there were other options out there for support besides just insurance sponsored therapy. That’s why I got involved with Live Oak Mental Wellness Project. When Michelle and Monica presented the vision to me, I realized it was exactly what I wished I’d had 13 years ago. I had needed a place where I could’ve been easily connected with the right resources to get my children the help they needed, from a supportive, caring team that wouldn’t make me feel like I was a failure as a mother because my children needed something more than I could give them. I believe that there are others out there like me, people who think they’re ready but who just need a lighted path so that they can’t talk themselves out of it. It is our goal to provide that path, not just to therapy, but to a caring and encouraging community where your lived experiences will be validated and honored so you can truly get the support you need.
Hello, I'm Eric Gray – a dedicated husband to Cindy Serratos and a proud father of three amazing children: Ariana, Eric Jr., and Rey. Originally hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I've made Lake Los Angeles my cherished home since 2016. This is the story of why I'm here. I believe my qualifications and experience make me a strong fit for the role of Treasurer at Live Oak Mental Wellness Project, Inc. My journey in the nonprofit sector, spanning over 16 years, has been a passionate and purpose-driven one, with a particular focus on individuals with mental health and criminal justice backgrounds. My life's work led me to the realization that there was an immense need for change and improvement in the mental health support system. My motivation to actively participate in the mental health field stems from my professional experiences, which began in challenging environments like Skid Row in Los Angeles. Witnessing the struggles and hardships faced by individuals with mental health challenges ignited a fire within me to advocate for better resources and care. However, it wasn't just professional experiences that fueled my commitment to this cause. In 2016, a traumatic event impacted my family, and we found ourselves grappling with our own mental health challenges. This personal journey opened my eyes to the deficiencies in available resources and the need for improved quality of care. It reinforced my determination to make a difference in my community by ensuring better access and support for those in need. My reliability and loyalty, combined with my certification and training as a financial fitness coach, make me well-equipped to manage the organization's finances effectively. I've always believed that financial responsibility is key to any nonprofit's success. With me as Treasurer, you can trust that I will handle the organization's financial health with the utmost care and responsibility. I work best in an environment that fosters collaboration and diversity. Specifically, I thrive in a multi-disciplinary team of individuals with varied backgrounds and expertise. I prefer an open and transparent work environment that encourages support, open-mindedness, and effective communication. This type of setting allows me to leverage different perspectives and skills to achieve my best work while promoting a culture of transparency and collaboration. As one of the many owners of the Green Bay Packers, I understand the importance of teamwork, dedication, and community involvement. In the words of Vince Lombardi, "Mental toughness is many things. It is humility because it behooves all of us to remember that simplicity is the sign of greatness and meekness is the sign of true strength." I carry this philosophy with me in all that I do, and I am excited about the opportunity to bring this mindset to the board and contribute to the organization's success. I am deeply committed to the mission of Live Oak Mental Wellness Project, Inc., and I am confident that my skills, passion, and dedication will play a pivotal role in advancing our cause. Together, we can make a profound impact on the lives of individuals and families in our community, ensuring they receive the support and care they deserve on their journey to mental wellness.
I love people. People stand at the center of all I do both professionally and personally. Be it surveying my workplace’s employee population to improve employee experience, or raising funds to free girls in Nepal from human trafficking, my one goal has remained: to help people. Alongside my love for people is my love for systems. There is something exciting about building new systems, processes, and policies from the ground up, then maintaining them and watching them improve organizational effectiveness. My love for people and systems work well together, allowing me to bring a human-centered approach to all initiatives on which I work. I have both a Bachelors and Masters degree from New York University, and currently work in Human Resources at one of the largest private research universities in the US. I work well in a diverse and international professional environment, having lived in California, New York, Madrid, and most recently, the United Arab Emirates. I appreciate, value, and uplift the perspectives that an amalgam of life experiences and cultural contexts bring. As a volunteer, I have served on various governing bodies in roles ranging from Secretary, to Senator, to President, to Board Director. Through these experiences I have gained skills in taking meeting minutes, writing and amending Bylaws, and utilizing Robert's Rules of Order. I have fundraised, managed million dollar budgets, and planned events with thousands of attendees. I am very ready to work just as diligently to help execute Live Oak’s mission and vision. (TW: Suicide.) My family’s world turned upside down in August of 2020 when we lost my sweet, brilliant, beautiful niece to suicide. Mental wellness is a cause that is so close to my heart. I am passionate about helping ensure others have access to mental wellness resources and understand how important their lives are.
Board Member at Large
My passion to serve has given me the opportunities to be here. I have had the honor to gain many skills and the understanding of my community's (La Communídad) needs, especially in showing my divine proficiency to serve as a member to elevate our community. Mental Health has become something very special to me, as in my culture (mi cultura) it is something that is not acknowledged or talked about so freely. Being a firstborn daughter to immigrants and also becoming a mother myself, I honor being able to see and show others the endless possibilities. In this journey thus far I have come to learn and see my passion lies here: to understand that we as a human race are all here for the purpose of helping one another. With my upbringing in my Mexican culture it seemed okay to struggle mentally, physically and make it so nonchalant. This brought many ailments into my life which led me to a journey of many lived experiences. Conjugal violence manifested into my life, this was when I realized this was a place I needed to guide and support myself for my child and I to be in a safe space. With the help of my family and friends, I was able to answer the call and find resources to support me to leave my child’s father. Nevertheless there was nothing I could find in my town or city but with the help of my local Sheriff, I was able to find online support I was comfortable with and would be covered by the CalVCB. I contacted TLC, inc which was based in Bellflower, CA. Luckily support was offered online which held me through court matters, raising my daughter as well as finding therapy for her and myself. However after our sessions established through CalVCB came to an end, I wasn’t able to find any local support groups in my area. Everyday it is my intent to show up for myself, with the guidance and support from the mental health community I realized that being able to support others do the same, to know and feel that they are not alone ever is the greatest opportunity. Gratitude to our creator for this beautiful space to serve the Antelope Valley community.
I am well versed within the realm of mental illness. I consider myself as starting the journey to mental wellness in 2000, when I hit a personal bottom. I was drinking far too much, and it was as difficult for me to see, as it was to admit. Several months later I was finally able to string some serious sobriety together. Nobody ever said it would be fun or easy. Dropped to my knees and prayed to God for help, which is precisely when the miracle happened for me. In fact, Live Oak Mental Wellness Project was made official, exactly three days after my 20th anniversary of sobriety. Being born into a long line of alcoholics and substance abusers, I was able to realize the correlation between mental illness and addiction. I tried to drink away my depression and anxiety for years, but it never seemed to work. Bipolarity, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia are but a few afflictions my loved ones have battled. I watched them suffer and struggle and they coped to the best of their abilities, but it always seemed to exacerbate continued addiction. After years of therapy, coaching and counseling I have learned there is a better way to deal with life’s obstacles. My need to help and give back is an undeniable one. I want to share the miracle of recovery. Helping IS healing