‘A kind word may be all it takes’

Community event aims to raise awareness of mental health support organizations

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Karen Cook of Cook Ministries and Cullman EMS Director James Curtis pose outside Arise Coffee Co., where Cook hosts monthly support groups. (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Karen Cook of Cook Ministries is hosting an event to bring nonprofits together to support those struggling with mental health issues. The event, named Superhero Fire, will feature 25 vendors that specialize in one of four categories: suicide prevention, human trafficking, domestic violence and addiction recovery. Superhero Fire will be held at the Hanceville Civic Center Saturday, Sept. 17,  from 4-6 p.m.

“The vision for Superhero Fire came with one thought of all of these amazing superheroes with their very own super strengths, all under one roof,” Cook said. “Each vendor at this event is a superhero at what they do every single day, and we want to share their super strengths with our community. This is an annual networking event bringing various nonprofits and organizations together all under one roof, bringing each superhero’s strength to light and meeting people within our communities to help each other’s needs.”

The event is free, and free meals will be provided. A sign language interpreter will be present from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) Shoals Regional Center.

Lacy Tolar, founder of Rescue 1 Global in Tennessee, will give the keynote speech centered around human trafficking.

Cook spoke about the importance of raising awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues. She shared some of the reasons why she believes these conversations can be so difficult.

“After my brother’s death, I got into the history of suicide. I wanted to study it. I wanted to know where it first started, how it happened, about suicides even in the Bible. I read all kinds of stuff, and if you look at some of that, you’ll find that years ago, it was taboo,” she said. “If you died by suicide, you were not even allowed to be buried in certain cemeteries. If you tried it and it was not completed you would go to jail. People just don’t talk about it. Then with mental health, it’s just kind of hush-hush. Maybe someone has got a mental health issue at home and they’re the ones that nobody talks about. That’s what we’ve got to overcome.”

Cullman EMS Director James Curtis, who assists Cook Ministries with mental health awareness programs, shared his perspective as one of the first responders to some tragic scenes.

“From my experience – from the emergency services and from veterans – we’re the people that come to fix things, and everybody expects us to have all the answers, but the things that you see day in and day out, it adds and piles up on the wagon. You pull that around with you and it accumulates to the point that it’s so much for people to bear,” he said. “What I want to get across to people is it’s okay to need some help. It’s okay for us to get help for ourselves. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If we don’t take care of ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically then we can’t go out there and take care of the people in the community. It’s such a burden on people emotionally to see the things that we do every day. It’s okay to not be 10 feet tall every day. It’s alright. It’s not a weakness, it’s a sign of strength to me because you know that you need some help, and if you’re willing to get some help so you can carry on with your mission of saving lives or protecting people, then that’s a win.”

Both talked about the importance of being kind to strangers and that no one knows what other people are going through.

Cook shared a quote from her brother Johnny: “Sometimes people are struggling with life and carrying a smile always trying to be strong. Be kind to the people you meet; you never know what is going on in their life. A kind word may be all it takes to help them thru another day.”

Cooks said Superhero Fire’s confirmed vendors include AIDB, Alabama Teen Challenge (Hayden), Alabama Suicide Prevention & Resource Coalition (ASPARC), Cullman Re-Entry Addiction Assistance (CREAA), Cook Ministries, Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force, Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, Domestic Violence Crisis Services of Marshall County, Dove Renew You/ Arise Coffee Co., Duty to Render Aid, Hope Filled Rooms (Birmingham), North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, Our Father’s House Ministries (Gadsden), Redeemed Ministries (Blountsville), Rescue 1 Global, Restoration Counseling Services, Sleep in Heavenly Peace (Hartselle), Soul Savage Ministries (Tennessee), The Crossing, The Lighthouse, The Pathfinder (Huntsville), Victim Services of Cullman, Wal-Mart Heart and WellStone (Cullman).

She added, “My personal goal is that someone comes through the door that needs a vendor, and if they don’t need that vendor then they are going to need the one next to them. There’s plenty of people there that are more than willing to help people.”

Cook Ministries a faith-based organization dedicated to restoring mental health through recovery programs focused on addictions, substance abuse, depression and suicidal ideation.

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