Matters of the Mind: EMPOWER, Colorado


Parenting is one of the most important and most difficult jobs a person can have.  When the work of parenting involves children with social, emotional, and mental health issues the job becomes dramatically compounded in both difficulty and scope.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2010), one in 10 American children have diagnosable mental health disorders.

In order to be effective, parents of children with brain-based disorders need specialized skills, time, and patience far beyond what is necessary for a job that is incredibly taxing to begin with. There are no definitive “training manuals” for raising kids, and the information available can become even more confusing, contradictory and frustrating as mental health diagnoses, treatments, educational supports (or lack thereof) and medications are added to the process

 Over the course of my career, however, I have encountered many parents who have excelled in parenting some of the most challenging kids in existence.  These parents are some of the most selfless, determined, creative, supportive, resourceful, and unconditionally loving people I have ever come across and this is exactly how I would describe the members of a local organization.

EMPOWER (Education Movement: Parents Offering Wisdom, Encouragement and Resources) Colorado members have not only become successful parents of kids with mental health issues themselves, they have also created and maintained an organization that seeks to support other families in similar situations across the state.  

 Recently, I received the opportunity to speak with a few of the board members of EMPOWER regarding the mission of their organization. Cheri Bena, Board President, emphasizes the importance of the multi-county support groups provided for families experiencing mental health issues.

In addition, she says, “I think [one of] the best things we [at EMPOWER] do is a seven-week class series. It covers topic areas such as Getting to the Diagnosis, Collaborative Problem Solving, Building Partnerships with Schools, and Taking Care of Yourself."

Cheri adds that the group also draws from the resources and experiences of involved families to negotiate a variety of barriers that can be encountered in service delivery systems.

Board member Mary Schmidt says that parents who are new to EMPOWER often say, “I thought I was the only one,” and that the group serves the very important function of letting parents and families dealing with mental illness know “that they are not alone in their journey.”

Mary agrees that the resources offered by EMPOWER, including online discussion forums, support groups, classes, e-mail and phone consultations, and advocacy with parents in school districts is at the heart of the organization’s success.

Carol Villa, a third member of the board, states, “EMPOWER has not lost its vision after 10 years.  We still strive [to provide] support, advocacy, and education.”

Sharing her personal perspective as a resourceful mother of nine, Carol explains, “This has been and still continues to be a long journey for me, but I still need EMPOWER as much as I did at the first support group I ever attended. At some point you do move more into advocacy, but the need for support never ends. Families need to know that there is always hope, healing and recovery.”

EMPOWER provides the supports discussed above free of charge to families. When additional services are needed, they provide informed referrals to other community resources.

If you or someone you know could benefit from EMPOWER’s programs, they can be accessed on the website, or by calling 1-866-213-4631.

Come out and support EMPOWER Sunday, March 25 for their second annual Roller Derby Fundraiser Bout. More information about this event can be found at:


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