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Youth lead mental health rally brings awareness to struggles kids face

By Kristin Fox

One young girl has decided to break the cycle of addiction and use her personal tragedies to help others. Last Sunday, 10-year-old Gracie Parker put together the first-ever Youth Mental Health Help Rally at the Main Street gazebo in downtown Franklin. 

Gracie, a fourth grader at South Macon Elementary School, knows first-hand the trauma experienced from drug addiction, because of drugs she lost her mom and her dad has been in and out of jail since she was a baby.

Gracie with the help of her best friend, Kennedy Carrion, and others organized the rally to bring awareness to the needs of youth who have experienced trauma. In addition to raising awareness, Gracie is on a personal mission to fight for the need of trauma counselors in all schools. Her goal is to see to it that all kids that have experienced trauma and need help have access to trauma counselors who are readily available in schools as well as the needed funding for these positions. She believes all schools locally as well as across the nation should be staffed with trauma counselors. 

While Gracie has been blessed to be raised by loving grandparents, she still at times felt hopeless and confused as to why her parents chose drugs over her. While dealing with her own personal trauma, she talked to several classmates and realized that she was not alone in dealing with the effects of trauma. Many of her peers have also experienced some type of trauma because of domestic violence, substance abuse at home, loss of a parent or a sibling, foster care, parent being deployed, divorce, bullying, and other situations.

Gracie also realized that there wasn’t a lot of help for her or her peers when dealing with their traumatic issues and situations. Gracie decided the schools needed more counselors especially those trained to deal with trauma, and she needed to do something to make that happen, kick-starting her journey to speak out about the mental health issues faced by today’s youth.

In addition to sharing her story, Gracie’s rally included several speakers including city and county officials who spoke to the large audience who came out to support Gracie and her rally. 

Police Chief Devin Holland, Town of Franklin Mayor Jack Horton, and County Commissioners Gary Shields and Josh Young spoke at the rally. In attendance and showing their support, were Commissioner Danny Antoine, Macon County Sheriff Brent Holbrooks, and Senator Kevin Corbin.

In addition to speakers, the event included informational tables including Gracie’s table including a petition requesting the Macon County Board of Commissioners and the Macon County Board of Education fund mental health staff at all Macon County Schools, the NC Child The Voice for North Carolina’s Children and Meridian Behavioral Health Services.

Following the rally, the group led by Gracie walked to the courthouse and then downtown to the Franklin Town Hall continuing to make her appeal for help to local government boards.

Gracie’s appeal – “We must stop this vicious cycle PREVENTION VS INTERVENTION” includes two goals:

  • The need for trauma counselors — not just guidance counselors — back in all schools, especially at the elementary school level.
  • Continue to raise awareness for youth mental health needs and stop bullying in schools and everywhere else.

Prior to the rally, Gracie has worked hard to bring attention to the need of trauma counselors. In an open letter to the North Carolina General Assembly, Gracie shared her story and urged state legislators to take action to help youth facing trauma. 

“I am reaching out to you with a critical, deeply personal, message about the urgent need for youth mental health help and bullying for us kids,” said Gracie in her letter to the General Assembly. “We children are hurting and we need your help. I lost my mom to drugs when I was only six months old and my dad isn’t part of my life because of drugs and jail.” 

“My grandparents took me out of a life-threatening situation before my mom died and they are raising me, and I’m very lucky to have them, I love them,” she added. “But, I wish I could be normal and live with my mom and dad, I never even got to know my mom. I miss her so, so much. For a long time, I thought I was the only one struggling with my traumas alone.”

Then, in third grade, I started talking with some of my classmates and friends, and I realized that they are also trying to survive, dealing with their own trauma,” said Gracie.

To read Gracie’s letter to the General Assembly in its entirety visit the NC Child The Voice for North Carolina’s Children at https://ncchild.org/youthhelp.

In addition, Gracie has shared her story locally at last year’s Full Circle Recovery Harm Reduction Event, as well as this spring in front of 40,000 people during the Trail of Truth in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Full Circle Recovery is a local organization that helps local residents who are dealing with drug addiction, being homeless and mental health issues. Trail of Truth is a live art piece performance that honors loved ones who have died from drug overdoses, promotes discussion of deaths caused by substance abuse and works to reduce drug related fatalities.

Gracie plans to continue to work hard until all schools locally and across the nation have mental health staff including trauma counselors. As she stated at her rally, she has future plans one day of being a Senator and then President of the United States.

2 Comments

  1. Justin Justin May 4, 2023

    It’s amazing that our commissioners are willing to spend millions on Danny’s micro school dreams and unconstitutional crusade to restrict teenagers ability to check out books (through age verification and other unconstitutional methods of restricting access to information) but they don’t have money for pre-k programs or youth counselors in schools. The truth is that people like Danny do not want mental health experts (secular science based medicine) interacting with children. Danny and his ilk would definitely support putting youth pastors in public schools to indoctrinate children with religious extremism.
    At least now they’ve got Jim Gaston’s little project to publish their excuses for constantly failing the children of Macon County while instead pursuing culture war battles they’re bound to lose in increasingly embarrassing scandals.

  2. Jen G. Jen G. June 29, 2023

    Justin- We desperately need your help fighting this battle. Now there are 3 religious extremists on the library board of trustees, including Leah Gaston. What can we do?

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