A mild blanket of overcast provided a mellow backdrop for U of R students and members of the Redlands community at Sylvan Park across the street from the university. The occasion: the 5th annual Vibe Festival of Wellness spearheaded by the Alliance for Community Transformation and Wellness, or ACTW.
The ACTW’s mission statement is spreading astute awareness of mental health across the Inland Empire according to founding member Janee Both Gragg, who is also a professor at the School of Education at the U of R. “I founded ACTW in 2014 with the goal of advancing conversations about and action towards mental health and wellness,” Gragg said of the organization’s inception.
The ACTW also works to increase access to counseling, support services, and wellness literacy. Counselors trained by the ACTW are tasked with bridging the mental health workforce gap by spreading their services to highly impacted areas of the Inland Empire. Gragg states that it’s “an exciting time to enter the profession, to get involved with your community.”
The Vibe festival acts as an interactive educational experience for all ages which showcases them to current trends and product innovations across the spectrum of wellness domains. It also includes an annual fundraiser that raises money for mental health resources throughout San Bernardino County. Like the previous four years, the festival was accompanied by both a 5K marathon. Local hip-hop artist October Sixteen capped off the festival with a set-list of music containing verses on self-love, respect, and resilience.
Gragg spoke about the creation of the VIBE, and how it actually originated about four years prior to the first festival.
“Around 2014, we had been funded by the California Mental Health Services and Administration in May to raise awareness for Mental Health Awareness Month,” Gragg said. “I realized the funding decreased significantly and I realized that as an organization, we needed to find fun, creative ways to raise funds. I was inspired in 2017 by Joshua Tree Music Festival and the Simi Valley Cajun Blues Festival and thought about how creating a health and wellness festival perhaps could raise funds to support mental health initiatives in the Inland Empire.”
Given the Vibe Festival is now celebrating its fifth year, it’s safe to say Gragg’s brainstorm was a successful one. “It’s a way to increase the overall wellness of the community,” ACTW member Ebram Naftzger states. “The focus is on growing relationships between all these different organizations and also making it something that people in the Inland Empire can have access to.”
Visitors were greeted by the various sponsors to the festival stationed around Sylvan Park. These sponsors hail from medical fields specializing in therapy, physical fitness, and healthcare, to collegiate entities like U of R and Crafton Hills College. The California State Assembly and SB County Department of Behavioral Health were also in attendance. “It’s really rewarding to see our local non-profit organizations and agencies coming out to show support and provide information and resources to the community,” Gragg said of the sponsors. She also expressed enthusiasm in seeing the resources they provide at the festival help improve the public’s health literacy and education.
With both the VIBE festival and ACTW’s close proximity to the U of R, Gragg emphasized the importance of mental health to a student body that is prone to varying degrees of anxiety and stress in the regularly daunting world of college life, some of whom were in attendance. “We’re seeing a renaissance/resurgence in conversations about and action towards mental health. From grassroots, intimate, quiet conversations among friends, all the way up to our government officials,” she said. “It’s important not to compartmentalize it or keep it as a side or separate thing. Mental health is a part of who we are and what we do everyday.”
Featured photo by Kyle Eaton.
Wylie Harris is a grad student majoring in Music Composition. He is a practitioner and avid admirer of both written music and written word. Outside of music and writing, he enjoys exercising in the gym, swimming laps in the pool, and taking walks across campus.