Mental Health Today Endowment Offers Resources for Waukon Area
Becky Decker of Waukon knows first-hand the tragic impact mental illness can have on a family. In early 2018, her family experienced the traumatic loss of brothers Matt and Thomas Howe, who both dealt with mental illness.
“Whether it’s divorce, abuse, or the loss of a parent, just one thing can put a child at risk,” she says. “Every person is just one little step away from that, but yet people think that it’ll never happen to them, or mental illness isn’t going to affect them."
In an effort to create awareness and provide more education about mental health issues, Decker and her late brother Matt’s wife, Shelly Howe, started Mental Health Today (MHT), the Matt Howe Tribute Endowment. “Becky and I wanted to do something to make resources available for any agency or individual that might need some assistance, and augment what other agencies and individuals are doing as well,” says Howe. Support groups, public speakers, and work in the local schools are top priorities for meeting the fund’s mission.
“We want to help kids with loss, mental illness, abuse, or anything like that,” Howe says. “We have talked to the school about a grief plan and potentially having a shared therapist or contracted therapist for students because we’ve learned that with mental illness, if children can learn coping mechanisms early in life they can overcome some of their mental illness or learn to cope with it better,” Howe explains. "The No. 1 thing the school can do is reach out to the family so that the child feels comfortable coming back to school — especially with suicide, because it comes with different emotions than other causes of death.”
Waukon and surrounding communities have experienced multiple losses in recent months, particularly those resulting from suicide. In these tight-knit small towns, such losses are amplified because. “Because we’re a small community, we are more aware of it,” says Decker.
While Matt Howe’s death caused a ripple of grief across the community, those same connections helped his family cope with the tragedy. “We live in a small community and we’re very, very caring,” Howe says. “I think the outpouring our families felt was wonderful. I couldn’t say enough about that, whether it was people shoveling my driveway or taking care of our horses or just being there.” Many people have reached out to Howe and Decker, sharing their own stories of struggle with mental illness. A Dubuque author who writes on mental health and a member of the Iowa Hawkeye football team have offered to speak in Waukon, and the Iowa Donor Network has expressed interest in partnering with MHT.
Decker and Howe hope their neighbors feel empowered to use MHT as a resource. “I want the community to understand that this is their money,” says Howe. She and Decker sent letters to businesses and individuals explaining that dollars could be put toward relevant library books, public speakers or other mental health education.
“Without the Community Foundation, we wouldn’t have the vehicle for this,” Howe says. The Allamakee County Community Foundation (ACCF), an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, also provided the MHT fund a $2,500 Seeds for Success grant to help reach the endowment fund’s $10,000 minimum. Of ACCF’s 31 funds, 19 have benefitted from the Seeds for Success program.