Mental health professionals, law enforcement officials and representatives from local schools will provide a variety of perspectives on mass shootings during a town hall meeting on Monday, Sept. 16. It will take place at the Grand Haven Community Center, 421 Columbus Ave., from 6:30-9 p.m.

“With discussions of shooting and mental illness taking place, the Mental Illness Task Force believes it’s important to clarify the difference between mental illness and mental health to help avoid creating more stigma surrounding people who struggle with legitimate mental illnesses that do not normally include expressions of violence,” said Barbara Lee VanHorssen, executive director of The Momentum Center for Social Engagement. “At the same time, we want to address the effects on the mental health of our society, including our children and ourselves, as we react to these tragedies.”

Speakers will include Bob VandePol of Pine Rest; Sarah Lewakowski, executive director of Mosaic Counseling; Spring Lake High School student Gabby Easterly; Ottawa Area Intermediate School District Assistant Superintendent Mike Rohwer; Dr. Gina Ramirez, a pediatrician and member of the Grand Rapids chapter of Moms Demand Action; Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker; Sgt. Chris Koster of the Sheriff’s Office; and psychological first aid specialist Joellen Rhyndress of HealthWest.

Rhyndress leads a team that responds to traumatic events, and she’s also a disaster mental health responder and instructor for the American Red Cross. She has responded to many gun violence-related deaths, including the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

Lewakowski will address the impact on the community’s general mental well-being. As a current high school student, Easterly will provide a perspective about the anxiety students face regarding mass shootings and well-intended school drills.

VandePol formerly served as president of Crisis Care Network, the world’s largest provider of crisis response services, and led teams for mass violence events such as 9/11, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon and Kalamazoo.

In his role at the OAISD, Rohwer has worked with first responders for the Ottawa Area Secure Schools Network. While training has so far been primarily with educators, Rohwer said they’re looking at how to work with students for training in addition to drills. The training is also teaching them life skills as incidents occur outside school, he added.

Mosaic Counseling will provide free Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) Training prior to the meeting, from 5-6 p.m. To pre-register, call 616-842-9160.

Event co-sponsors include the city of Grand Haven, Grand Haven Area Public Schools, North Ottawa Community Health System and Ottawa County. Aldea Coffee will provide beverages.

For more information about the forum, contact VanHorssen at Barbara@extendedgrace.org or call 616-414-9111.

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