I have often felt that if I don’t do something to make a change then it will never happen. There are so many injustices in the world that don’t seem to be going anywhere so it must be up to me to set them straight, right? The beauty of co-creation is that it isn’t just on me—and it shouldn’t be anyway. Pride tells me that I can do it alone but humility tells me that it’s not just about me so I shouldn’t do it alone even if I could. Through my placement at Club Nova, I’ve learned things that have helped me to deeper understand what co-creation really means.
First, if I do the things I feel led to, good things can happen. Before I started my work at Club Nova, I hardly knew how to cook and I really didn’t enjoy it either. Over the course of the year, I have been given the chance to really see where my passions are. My passion isn’t necessarily cooking, but it is bringing people together, which happens so naturally while sharing a meal. I’ve found excitement and purpose in trying to find meals that people can find a common bond through. In the fall, I think I sat for almost an hour listening to people share their childhood memories of muscadine grapes (for the northern folks out there, muscadines are a certain type of grape that thrive in the south—they’re known for their tough skin and gritty texture). When I share meals with other members and staff around the big dining room table, we talk about those kinds of things—memories, favorite foods, home cooked meals, and whatever else comes to mind. Really, a good bowl of soup can bring back so many memories that wouldn’t cross your mind otherwise. That, for me, is what matters in cooking. I could make the best food in the world, but if that food can’t create a community, then it really isn’t doing much. The best cooking that I’ve done has been with others and for others.
I’m also learning that making change isn’t all on me. The state of mental health in our country is pretty abysmal if I do say so myself. Funding is getting cut everywhere and the stigma seems to be growing. At times it has been almost impossible not to doubt that the work I’m doing is making any difference. But when I force myself to pause and think more clearly, I realize that there are so many people fighting for mental health causes all over the world and that to put that all on me not only disregards all of the people doing the work all over the world, but that it also puts so much value and importance on what I am able to do that I never will feel like I’ve done enough. Instead, I need to go where I feel led and do what I can, trust that others are doing the same and, from there, good things will happen.
–Jessi Wightman works at Club Nova, a clubhouse that provides opportunities for adults with severe mental illness to lead meaningful and productive lives of their choice in the community.