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Meet CoraLyn (CJ) Turentine of Resilient Leadership

Today we’d like to introduce you to CoraLyn (CJ) Turentine.

Hi CoraLyn (CJ), thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
The first business that I can remember starting was a souvenir business. As a child, my parents would send me to stay with my grandparents in Jamaica during the summers. Next door to their home was a guest house, and the owners had a little girl the same age as me. To earn money for bag juice (a frozen treat that we could get up the road), we’d create different souvenirs and sell them to the tourists staying at the guest house. For example, I remember climbing on the main house’s roof to collect tiny baby coconuts that had fallen from the trees, decorating them with bright orange nail polish, and pedaling them off to a young group from Italy. I still have my little wallet from back then, and there are still a few unspent bills, and coins inside that make me feel nostalgic.

My motivations for being an entrepreneur have matured, of course. In my career, I use strategic leadership to help individuals and communities design and implement strategies that meet their biggest quality of life needs. I’ve primarily used those skills in the context of international and community development. In 2010, my husband and I became therapeutic foster parents, coupled with my own experiences with mental illness. My business partner, Sarah Foster, and I saw an opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life outcomes by educating communities about how our mental health works, how toxic stress and adversity affect the brain, and how to nurture resilience through a trauma-informed lens. After piloting a community program that exceeded our expectations in its impact, we felt strongly that the education and training that we were making available to a select set of professionals and organizations was something everyone needed access to. So, in 2018, we launched Resilient Leadership (then called Mental Health Matters) and began offering professional development and community training in mental health, trauma-informed care, social-emotional learning, resilient leadership, and crisis intervention. Initially, we focused on serving social-service organizations/schools and families. We have since evolved and now include for-profit corporations in our professional development while offering one-on-one Resilient Leadership coaching to adults. We intend to equip people with knowledge and skills that will help them to promote mental wellness and prevent mental health crises in day-to-day life outside of a clinical setting.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Like any new venture, serving others in this capacity has been filled with ups and downs. Sarah (my best friend and business partner) and I both come from non-profit backgrounds, so starting a for-profit business was a huge learning experience for us. We both have extensive experience with grant management and fundraising, and we know how hard it can be to secure the funding for strategies that will have the highest impact on a particular community. We wanted our clients to be the primary source for informing our strategies. We didn’t want to compromise on what our clients felt they wanted and needed to maintain funding, so we formed a for-profit.

With that, we still had our non-profit brains and tried to run the business like a non-profit. We kept our fees unsustainably low. We focused on finding grant opportunities for our clients so that they could afford our services. We kept everything grassroots and honed in on reaching the most marginalized and vulnerable populations. It was difficult for us to hit our goals and take care of ourselves with this mindset. And then, about a year and a half after launching, we hit a global pandemic and everything shut down. Our primary audience was made up of schools and social services, but all of those had to shut down. There was a lot of uncertainty, and we carefully considered whether it would be best to keep going. Ultimately, we decided it was time to change our mindset and pivot.

We did a lot of internal work on ourselves. We realized that limiting ourselves to serving only disinvested/marginalized communities went against everything that we believed about loving and caring for people non-discriminatorily. Recognizing that everyone has mental health and anyone can experience mental health challenges, we started looking at how we could serve people from different socioeconomic statuses and what we needed to add to our toolbox to be helpful. We also pivoted from only providing in-person services to primarily providing virtual services. We learned that we can still have deep and meaningful human connections virtually and that doing so would also make our services more accessible for people. Serving those with a higher socioeconomic status also positioned us to be more sustainable so that we can continue to exist and serve others without worrying about money. Those changes were a little bit easier for us because we genuinely love people and believe that the collective is just as important as the individual. That leads me to the biggest challenge: recognizing our value and charging for what we need to care for ourselves. We are both familiar with and very comfortable with sacrifice, but when you work for someone else, you still know when your next pay cheque is coming (even if it’s small). As business owners, especially start-ups, we no longer had that certainty. We could work for weeks without making a penny (building a client base takes time), and when we did bring in the money, we felt guilty about paying ourselves. We’ve had to do a lot of internal work to appreciate that we are human, just like everyone else, and we need to take care of ourselves. It’s still uncomfortable, but it’s slowly beginning to get easier to live with the discomfort.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
Resilient Leadership creates safe spaces for adults to learn, practice, and activate mental health knowledge, trauma-informed care, social-emotional learning, and resilience. We do this in three primary ways: 1) We provide professional development and workshops on mental health, trauma-informed care, and resilience to organizations, companies, and community groups. 2) We do one-on-one coaching with adults to protect and improve their well-being by teaching them how to prepare for, navigate, and thrive despite adversity. 3) We train others in mental health crisis intervention. Recognizing that clinical mental health help is not always accessible, available, or desired, we focus on teaching strategies used in daily life rather than in clinical settings. For example, how might a teacher care daily for the mental health of their students? How might a corporate executive build trauma-informed practices into their HR policies? How might someone caring for an aging parent avoid a mental health breakdown by practicing resilience strategies? You don’t have to be a doctor to have the knowledge and skills to take care of your physical health daily. Similarly, you don’t have to be a therapist to care for your mental well-being daily. That is not to say that professionals do not have their place, but to point out that we can all be proactive in caring for ourselves and others.

We’ve worked hard to develop an authentic brand that represents what we most believe in, particularly with our mantra “Learn. Practice. Activate” We believe that we should empower people to make informed decisions for themselves, so we start by providing education about mental health. Many education-based programs, however, stop at teaching about theory but don’t provide strategies for applying that knowledge in real life. For example, one might say that because children exposed to adversity may struggle with their mental and emotional wellness, it’s important to be patient and compassionate. But what does “patient and compassionate” mean? What does it look like in practice? We coach people in applying the knowledge they’ve gained by giving them opportunities to practice new skills and helping them to develop action plans that they can implement in their contexts. It doesn’t matter if we are doing a 75-minute professional development session or 6 months of coaching. Our clients are walking away with practical tools and skills that they can begin using immediately.

From the get-go, we affirmed that diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice had to be central to what we do and how we do it. We strive to offer an anti-racist curriculum. We study and learn from people who think and live differently than we do. We do what we can to de-stigmatize mental health, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. We are committed to creating safe spaces for people to learn and grow and do the work to push past the discomfort and pride that often inhibits people from engaging in necessary deep change.

Any big plans?
After going through many changes resulting from the COVID19 pandemic, our primary focus is on stabilizing and standardizing high-quality operations and services. We’re excited to be outsourcing several admin roles that we are personally weak into professionals who are great at what they do. We enjoy gaining feedback from our clients about what they feel they most need and want and finding ways to be the best resource and support system we can be. One of the areas that our clients are pushing us for is recorded workshops that they can purchase and use with their teams. Many organizations and companies are trying to make cultural changes in how they think about and care for the mental health of their teams. Since teams shift and change all the time, they want to have more authority in how frequently they can make our training available, and having online lessons that they can pull up and use with their teams anywhere at any time is key to that. Having to rely on us to provide live training every time limits when those learning opportunities can happen and how many people have access to them. We’re excited to consider leveraging technology to serve people better.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Ankh Productions

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