Aidbel Morano came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when she was 18. Her life hasn’t been easy raising her four children, one with Downs Syndrome. Difficult family problems and the loss of her job put her and her 10-year-old son, Jalen, into a homeless shelter. The environment sparked a crisis for Jalen, who spent a month in a psychiatric hospital. The family qualified for supportive housing, and even more important, special help for Jalen. When the family moved to a new home in Brooklyn, they came to JCCA’s Mental Health and Prevention Services, and things began to change when Jalen was enrolled in a special Case Management Program.

“One of the first people I met at JCCA was Esperanza Torres, Director of Case Management Programs. I guess she was impressed with how I handled Jalen and made sure he got to his appointments and received the services he needed. She told me about a program at JCCA called WAIVER, where I became a Family Support Provider. The program trains parents like me with children with mental illness to help others. I had never really done anything like this. I’m a cook, that’s how I earn a living, but I decided to try.

Now I have clients, parents of kids like Jalen. I help the family reach their treatment goals. If the mom needs someone to go with her to an appointment, I go. But the most important thing is that I’m there to show them that you can help your child—I’ve done it myself. I can give them advice because I’ve been there.

You never expect your child to have a mental illness, but as a parent you go through it, too. A lot of parents feel overwhelmed. If I can be there to give them support, to tell them what’s going to happen, that can mean so much. Mental illness can be hard to understand. You can’t see what’s going on in a kid’s head, and people around you often don’t understand either. You can feel really alone.

For a kid with mental illness to get better, the parent has to be involved. But they need help themselves to be able to really support their child and that’s what I’m there for. I don’t have the education but I have a mission and I have experience, and JCCA has trained me so I can help others. That’s what I am doing as a Family Support Provider. I’ve even been to Washington to explain what mental illness can do to a child and a family. Me, in Washington—I never would have believed it.

My own son is doing so much better, so I know there is a future for kids like Jalen. That’s what I tell the parents I work with, and I think it helps them.”