Graduate School Alumna Works with Teens, Families and Communities at the Intersection of Faith, Hope and Mental Health Few church pastors and ministers are trained in mental health, yet clergy often find themselves on the front lines when youth and families are faced with addiction, depression, anxiety or suicide. "Churches are one of the first places people turn to when experiencing a mental health crisis," says Joy Hensel of Duluth, Minnesota, a youth ministry consultant, licensed addiction counselor and 2008 graduate of the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. Clergy aren't clinicians—and need not be, says Hensel. But churches are uniquely positioned to connect young people and families with the professional mental health services they need and, beyond that, to foster helpful conversations about mental health and well-being. This is precisely the intersection where Hensel works via grant-funded initiatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We Gather Together In 2018, Hensel was asked to present and facilitate a one-day workshop in Duluth connecting area pastors and youth leaders with mental health resources for teens and families. Turnout for the event was overwhelming. Soon Hensel found herself leading a more extensive bridge-building enterprise among church leaders, youth and families. Through a 2019 grant funded by ELCA's national "Always Being Made New" campaign, Hensel has developed a series of mental health discussion guides, podcasts and workshops for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod's Youth Ministry and Mental Health Initiative. Initial topics in the series include mental well-being, anxiety, depression, suicide prevention, suicide response and grief. Thanks to new funding from a church within the synod, Hensel is currently developing discussion guides on topics specific to substance use disorders and compulsive behaviors around vaping, gambling, social media and more. The facilitated discussions have been eagerly received by ELCA congregations across northeastern Minnesota and beyond, Hensel reports. "Our youth want and need opportunities to talk with peers and trusted adults about all of these difficult topics in a safe, supportive space. Parents and grandparents want to be engaged with these important discussions, too," Hensel shares. The conversations provide opportunities to learn, connect and belong. "Substance use disorders and mental illness carry tremendous stigma for families. We know these illnesses thrive in isolation. Youth need safe spaces to discuss struggles and ask questions—to know they're not alone, to know help is available, to find their voice and to carry hope." Where Healing and Hope Meet Hensel shares that, early in her career as a youth director, an attentive and concerned congregation member left a brochure about Hazelden's Family Program on her desk. The incident proved providential. Hensel attended the program and was deeply moved by the transformative process of addiction treatment in healing the body, mind and spirit. Several other experiences during her seminary program led Hensel time and again to encounter "many wise and wonderful people" who were all, in some way, associated with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. She paid attention to the nudges and made a major career pivot. On completing seminary, Hensel enrolled in the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. Today, with an undergraduate degree in secondary education and graduate degrees in congregation and community care: faith and health ministries and addiction counseling, Hensel brings an impressive toolbox to her work with youth and young adults. Her postgraduate career has merged clinical and spiritual care at every turn, whether working as an addiction counselor at an inpatient treatment center, launching a collegiate recovery program or directing wilderness camps through Lutheran Outdoor Ministries. In each position, Hensel has been given what she describes as a sacred role: to create safe spaces for young people to explore, learn and question—so they can become who they are meant to become. Whether working with "people in the pews" or with youth and families in treatment, Joy Hensel, MA, LADC, instills the transformative power of "living into each new day with hope."