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‘Hugs for the Heart’ blends poetry, mental health advocacy, sharing and caring

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A Las Cruces art gallery was transformed into a safe and welcoming performance space Dec. 9, as Art Obscura Gallery and owner Deret Roberts welcomed local poets, poetry readers and friends – including three members of the Las Cruces City Council and a Las Cruces state senator – to “Abrazos Para el Corazon: Hugs for the Heart” poetry night.

“Having poetry and mental health come together makes sense because it’s for the heart,” said poet and emcee Alicia Blasingame, who opened the program by reading a poem she wrote called “Do You Still Love Me.”

The evening included a panel featuring staff and volunteers of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)-Southern New Mexico and information about the work NAMI is doing locally and nationally to erase the stigma of mental illness, to educate people about mental and behavioral health issues and to provide services to those in need and their families and loved ones.

Mayor Pro Tempore Kasandra Gandara spoke about “a glimpse into the soul” during her reading. A licensed social worker, Gandara said she wants to help those with mental illnesses “to not only survive but thrive.”

State Sen. Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces was in Santa Fe Dec. 9 as the legislature met in a redistricting special session, but she joined the Art Obscura gathering with a short video.

“I am doing my best to learn how to support people with mental illness” and to increase funding “so the help that’s needed is available,” Hamblen said.

“It was such a beautiful event and such a creative idea for a gathering,” said City Councilor Johana Bencomo, who read two poems by poet and author Nayyirah Waheed --  “As You Are/You Are the Prayer” and “I Love Myself.”

“NAMI did an excellent job at highlighting the complexities for mental illness by ensuring the voices of those directly impacted were at the center,” Bencomo said. “I honestly cried at every single reading and was so moved by everyone who read their poetry, including my colleagues – I got to see a very different side of them. I am so grateful to NAMI for all the work they do in our communities.”

City Councilor Gill Sorg read “Dangerbird Diviner” by Las Cruces poet Hayley Clifford.

National NAMI board member Micah Pearson of Las Cruces said NAMI-SNM is looking for new board members and is especially seeking the participation of young people.

A panel discussion about NAMI and mental health issues included Pearson, Blasingame and Liz Liano, who is a member of the NAMI-SNM board of directors and chair of public relations and planning/development. Liano also read two of her poems during the program.

Blasingame said NAMI-SNM has “new goals and new programs” coming in 2022, including online training. Pearson said the organization, in partnership with the Doña Ana County Health and Human Services Department, will begin peer navigation services for those dealing with mental health issues.

Pearson, Blasingame and Liano said NAMI-SNM continues to offer a wide range of free resources, including family classes, support groups and peer-to-peer education.

NAMI-SNM memberships are available for $5 (open door), $40 (individual) and $60 (household). Donations are also welcome.

NAMI was founded as a national organization in 1979 and “is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness,” according to the organization’s website.

NAMI-SNM serves 16 southern New Mexico counties and is based in Las Cruces.

For more information, call 575-448-2774. Visit https://nami-snm.org/.