Posted by: Kari Goetz on Wednesday, May 5, 2021

This past year has been challenging for many of us. Whether our experience was thriving or surviving, it was a year of universal change. We are in a state of global grief, losing loved ones and friends, dealing with the physical affects of the virus, grappling with physical distance from our networks both professionally and personally. All of this has taken a toll on our mental health. 

Fortunately, we have the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. The Crisis Center has been a part of many Leadership Tampa program days. We all learned the importance of 2-1-1 and the incredible work done by the Crisis Center team answering those calls and saving lives.

If you have never attended Cup of Compassion (shameless plug) you need to put this on your annual “must attend” list. Hearing about the work being done, the work that needs to be done and those that do the work, is an inspiriting experience. 

The highlight each year is hearing from Clara Reynolds. CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Clara brings a compassionate and empathetic presence to the organization and the community. She has spent her career dealing with the issues surrounding mental health – lack of resources, access, and stigma – and turned them in to opportunities. She has courageously built partnerships to fund programming, increased access to the most vulnerable and brought mental health to the forefront of the discussion from Board Rooms to Playgrounds.

As a member of LTA and a deeply respected leader in the community, we had the chance to sit down with Clara to talk about mental health issues in our region, what is being done and how she manages to remain strong during this difficult time.

You have such a passion for mental health education, awareness, and intervention, do you consider this a career or a calling?

This work is definitely a calling for me. I have lost two very important people in life to suicide and those losses were deeply impactful. I was drawn to psychology in college but found my true calling in social work. For the past 28 years, I am grateful every day to be a part of this important work.

At what point did you transition from doing the work to leading the work? Was there a specific decision point where it changed or was it an evolution?

It was definitely a decision. I had the privilege of partnering to create a new nonprofit, Success 4 Kids & Families in 2005. My partner, John Mayo and I flipped a coin to see who the CEO would be, and I lost the coin toss! It was a turning point in my career.

Your team has managed an exponential increase in need for mental health services during the pandemic. Can you talk about that and its long-term effect on our community?

COVID-19 is not just a physical health pandemic. As we have discovered, our behavioral health has probably been more affected than our physical health for the majority of our community. And there is no vaccine for the behavioral health impacts. This tsunami of anxiety and depression will be with us for a long time. It is impacting every age, race, and zip code. At the Crisis Center, we have interacted with many individuals who have never experienced a behavioral health issue before COVID, and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Follow up – many are saying that the next public health crisis will be mental health issues caused or intensified by the pandemic. How can the community come together to provide resources to meet this crisis?

I think the most important thing we can do as a community centers around stigma reduction. It is so important that all of us recognize that behavioral health issues are real and treatable. If we can treat conditions like depression and anxiety the same way we treat diabetes and high blood pressure, our community members will seek help sooner before the condition becomes a crisis.

You manage really heavy issues every day, how do you take care of your own mental health?

First, I have an incredible family, and we love to play. We go on mini breaks frequently to local places like Disney as well as attend a number of sporting events. I am also an avid swimmer and swim most days. I think the combination of these outside interests keep me refreshed. 

You hold an MBA from the University of Tampa (Go Spartans!) why is access to quality mental health important to the business community in Tampa Bay?

Every employee brings their whole selves to work. They bring their fears, joys, traumas and the like every day. To get the most from your most value asset, employers have to recognize that poor mental health impacts productivity, workplace morale, and a host of other metrics.

Summer is almost here, and the world is getting vaccinated, do you have your checklist of things you want to do now that the world is opening back up? What are you looking forward to doing?

My son is graduating this year and will attend the University of Florida in the Fall. We already have season Gator football tickets in addition to our Buccaneer tickets. I cannot WAIT to attend live sporting events with avid fans!!!!

You are a beloved member of LTA. Everyone who knows you talks about your passion, your commitment, and your strong leadership at The Crisis Center. How has Leadership Tampa and LTA been a part of your leadership journey? Why should someone apply to LT’22?

Well, you are too kind in your words! I was very fortunate to participate in LT very early in my career. Even though I am a Tampa native, I cannot over emphasize how much I learned about our community during my LT year. I also met incredible people in my class, some of whom I work with directly (Jim Porter, one of my Board Members at Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, for example!) 22 years later. Leadership Tampa is an investment, but like any investment, it is worth the time and commitment.

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