Executive Functioning + Volunteering

“Executive Functioning + Volunteering”

written by Mary Ulmer-Jones, Pebble Tossers Board of Directors, Associate GC & SVP Bank of America

Shelter in Place provides us the time and energy to focus on meaningful things.  It is meaningful to me that Pebble Tossers has given my son a platform to practice executive functioning.  Jamie is a junior in high school and was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in seventh grade. At the time of diagnosis, I didn’t worry too much. But, what I realize now is that I underestimated the impact ADD has on the brain’s ability to utilize executive functioning.

The ability to take an assignment and break it down into orderly, actionable steps is a critical skill that we all need. For instance, if you are planning a dinner party you make a to-do list that flows in a logical order. Upon completing each task, you will then be ready to host a successful dinner party. But, if your executive functioning ability is impaired by ADD, you might get overwhelmed by hosting such an event. You may forget to pick up flowers for the table. Or even worse, you fail to properly sequence the cooking of your side dishes and entrée. Oh Lord, your meal isn’t put on the table until 11 p.m. That is a result of your executive functioning not being fully developed. But, good news, if you practice executive functioning you can develop this skill to its fullest extent.

So, back to Jamie and Pebble Tossers. It took me until this spring to recognize that Pebble Tossers provides me the opportunity to help Jamie practice executive functioning.  From the Pebble Tossers website, Jamie chooses the organization he wants to support or the project that he wants to complete.  Together we read the service opportunity description.  Then we write down and verbally discuss each of the steps Jamie will need to accomplish to complete the service successfully.

For example, Jamie has provided meals to Kate’s Club on a regular basis. Now, let’s practice executive functioning. First, determine the menu. (sandwiches, chips, cookies and fruit) Second, decide how to shop for the items on the menu. (Amazon delivery, Publix, Walmart for paper products) Third, set a timeline for shopping. (Place Amazon order a week or so in advance, go to Publix and Walmart one day after school) Forth, set aside time for preparation of the lunches. (over a two or three-day period assembly line style prep on the dining room table, use the basement fridge to store the sandwiches, use old Amazon boxes to package the lunches for delivery) And, finally, deliver a complete meal on time for as many as one hundred Kate’s Club clients and volunteers. (leave for Kate’s club at 9:30 am Saturday morning so the meals are delivered by 11:00 am.)

So, thank you Pebble Tossers for giving me this opportunity. And, thank you Shelter in Place orders for giving me time to reflect on what is really important.



Real Talk about Mental Health

October 10 is World Mental Health Day.  This is a sensitive topic, but one that demands our attention. 

I’ve struggled with mental health my entire life, whether I realized it or not. I remember moments in middle school when I had to go to the school nurse because I couldn’t breathe. I would try to take full, calming breaths like my mom had taught me but no matter how deep I tried to breathe, I just wasn’t feeling right. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I struggled to understand why I got so anxious, why I couldn’t leave my bed for weeks and why, no matter how much affirmation I received from teachers, friends, and family, I didn’t feel worth it. It wasn’t until I got to college and hit rock bottom that I realized I needed help. 

Depression and anxiety plagued my sophomore year and I was unable to get myself help. From the outside, I probably looked fine but to the people that knew me best, it was clear that something was wrong and that my academic and social life was starting to be affected significantly. They called a counseling center and made me an appointment, they sat with me while I was studying and talked me through some of the darkest times I’ve had thus far. It’s a scary reality, but a reality we can no longer ignore.

Talking about mental health can be one of the scariest conversations to have. For those with little experience on the topic, it can be even scarier, but the most important thing is to try. If I had not had the support of my family and friends, I truly would not be here today. It is because of the people that love me that I was able to get help and become equipped with the tools to help me handle my mental health in the future. 

~ Grace Guynn, 2019

From a parent’s perspective, listening to your child tell you they are struggling to hold their life together is frightening. So many questions surge through your mind. Did I do something wrong? What should I do to help?  Is my child safe right this second and where can she go to get help immediately? 

I don’t claim to have answers, just more questions. But in these questions, I have learned that positive mental health can be practiced and promoted. Socially and culturally, we need to view mental health as seriously as we do other physical illnesses. The harsh fact is that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds and, in 2017, there were 129 suicides per day in the United States. We can no longer be afraid to bring up concerns regarding a loved one’s mental health.  

Pebble Tossers strives to provide safe opportunities that promote positive outcomes for youth and teens, to foster positive relationships, and to equip youth with the support they need to grow and develop into healthy, active adults. We want youth to feel valued, respected, and to experience the joy of serving.

The World Health Organization website states that every 40 seconds someone loses their life to suicide.  They offer these tips of “40 seconds of action” to combat this:

  • If you are struggling, take 40 seconds to kickstart a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling. 
  • If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, take 40 seconds to start a conversation and ask them how they are doing. 
  • If you work in media, highlight the 40-second statistic in interviews, articles and blog posts. 
  • If you work in the arts or on digital platforms, interrupt your production or broadcast to transmit a 40-second message about mental health or preventing suicide. 
  • If you are an employer or manager, take 40 seconds to formulate a positive message of support to your employees about resources available to them in the workplace or local community in times of mental distress. 
  • If you want your leaders to hear your request for action, record a 40-second audio clip or video telling them the action you want them to take on suicide prevention and mental health. 
  • If you have a platform for communicating with a large audience (social media, television, radio), provide 40-second slots for sharing mental health stories and messages. 
  • If you are a parent, take 40 seconds to ask your kids about their relationship with their friends.
  • If you are a teen, scroll through your social media and pay attention to sudden changes in posts of your friends, take 40 seconds to send them an encouraging chat or message.

Remember to respect the privacy of friends, colleagues or acquaintances who may be struggling and never share any information about their mental health on a public channel without their consent. 

Helpful resources:

US Dept of Health and Human Services has two apps for parents:

Bark:  Internet safety app for parents to use on all family phones that monitors text messages, emails, and social activity for signs of harmful interactions and content related to signs of cyberbullying, depression, online predators, adult content, and more.  

TalkLife: Developed by folks at Harvard and MIT, TalkLife is a peer support platform that engages an online community when people just someone who’s willing to listen. Posting can be done anonymously.  

Koko:  Developed by researchers at MIT, this app provides help for people in all states of distress from bullying and harassment to suicide and self-harm. Koko provides evidence-based supportive interactions with users while referring users in crisis to international lifelines for immediate help. 

~Jennifer Guynn, 2019