Last night at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, an amazing group came together to support children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. The event was the Child Mind Institute’s 3rd annual Change Maker Awards, and it was a wide-ranging, exciting night where the celebrity attendees again and again acknowledged the real stars: the courageous kids and the people who dedicate their lives to helping them.
The night began with our first ever Facebook “Live and Donate,” hosted by our incredible friend, award-winning journalist Katie Couric. Guests included honorees, attendees and young patients at the Child Mind Institute who shared their experience and hope, and the program was streamed out to the masses, with their donations matched by a generous gift from the Child Mind Institute’s founding corporate partner, Bloomingdale’s.
After the Liveathon, NBC correspondent Cynthia McFadden took the stage to MC the event. In the spirit of our #MyYoungerSelf anti-stigma social media campaign, she shared her own story of growing up with a language processing problem. She credits her loving parents with a critical early lesson. “They never said, ‘You can’t read,’” she told the audience of professionals, advocates and families. “They said, ‘Let’s figure out a way to help.’”
With that, the evening was off. Hunter College president Jennifer Raab presented the Outstanding Organization award to the “unsung heroes” of the National Association of School Psychologists, represented by president-elect John Kelly, PhD. “The challenges and issues faced by our nation play out in the classroom,” Dr. Kelly said. Thankfully, school is “an incredibly effective environment in which to help children cope with these challenges.”
Lincoln Center Theater artistic director Andre Bishop was on hand to present the Visionary award to Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen, noting with pleasure that the assembled crowd was “celebrating the power of art to introduce us to different ways of thinking.” Producer Stacey Mindich and writer Steven Levenson told the story of creating this play about “a boy who imagined himself always on the outside.” And they closed with an affirmation of “the things that matter most these days: as Stephen Sondheim put it, ‘Children and art.’”
Al Roker gave the Local Hero Award to occupational therapist Lori Rothman, and introduced her with a touching story of how she helped his son Nick. In her remarks, Rothman expertly synthesized the theme of the night. “This,” she said, “is only one of so many stories of hope turning into reality.”
Child Mind Institute president Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, took a moment to introduce the MVP of the Change Maker Awards — a teenage Child Mind Institute patient. “If you listen to one person tonight,” he said, “it should be Alex.” Taking the podium, Alex spoke eloquently about her experience with depression. Most touchingly, she spoke of finally opening up to her parents and the process it started. “Just those ten seconds of bravery can be life changing,” she said.
In an inspiring conclusion to the evening, Child Mind Institute board chair Brooke Garber Neidich presented the Champion award to Amy Kennedy, accepting on behalf of her husband Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Rep. Kennedy has made incredible contributions to the fields of mental health research and advocacy with organizations like the Kennedy Forum and One Mind for Research. But Ms. Kennedy was quick to recognize the power of the community.
“This issue is something that today we need to be addressing and funding,” she told the Change Maker Awards audience. “And we are so happy to be in a room with incredible people who know that this is important, both for individual children and for the nation.” In closing, Cynthia McFadden echoed this point. “Thank you for being so open and connected to the message tonight,” she told the crowd. “Remember, you have the power to transform children’s lives.”