Expanding the El Otro Lado program

Since its incorporation in 1998, the Academy for the Love of Learning has intended for its programs to be accessible to the greater community. The programs at the core of the Academy have become firmly rooted within our home city of Santa Fe, NM, and word has spread. In the last couple of years, organizations around the country have reached out to us with the hope of bringing Academy programs and pedagogies to their communities, workplaces and schools, fulfilling our wish to reach a broader audience.

In early 2017, Dr. Sona Dimidjian, professor of Psychology at Colorado University Boulder and a leading expert on depression treatments and mindfulness research, contacted Academy president Aaron Stern after learning more about the El Otro Lado (EOL) program. Sona and Aaron had developed a deep friendship while both presenting their work to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at an international conference in Mundgod, India, in 2013. With a specialty in serving women through pregnancy and post-partum depression, Dr. Dimidjian looks for “novel preventative interventions for at risk perinatal women” and she found threads that linked related treatment options with our EOL projects.

In May 2017, Dr. Dimidjian invited Aaron and El Otro Lado Director and Co-Founder Chrissie Orr into conversation about the possibilities that EOL holds. Representatives at those meetings included staff from Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare provider in Colorado and throughout the United States that holds an innovative approach to wellbeing through their work with schools in their Arts Integrated Resources (AIR) programs; AIM House and madelife founder Danny Conroy, who specializes in helping young adults find stable ground and navigate challenges through creative expression; program managers and researchers at the National Behavioral Health Innovation Center in Aurora; staff from the Aurora Mental Health Center; and researchers and clinicians working on a pilot program called “Una Madre a Otra” which helps women in rural Colorado with post-partum depression receive the support they need.

Over two days of discussion, scientists, educators, philanthropists, and community members explored the depth of transformation that EOL offers to individuals. With roots in accessing a person’s story-telling capacity through artistic outlets, EOL has been recognized and embraced by leading professionals in the mental health field as a way for those with mental illness, trauma, and stigma to find identity and Self in an innovative way. There was a common goal among all attendees in assisting those who are most vulnerable and marginalized in our current society in a way that meets individuals where they are, which is a key component in obtaining personal growth and transformation.

The possibilities for bringing EOL to more people seemed endless. Ideas churned around the program, ranging from implementation in Colorado schools, to serving Latina women with post-partum depression ask for support, to providing capacity for young women with body image struggles to access their unique beauty. The work of EOL is truly transformational in capacity, and we at the Academy look forward to the continued discussion and narrowing in on the exact outlet to help enrich lives further. Please stay tuned for updates as we explore and prepare for these wonderful opportunities.

Are you interested in bringing El Otro Lado or other Academy programs to your community? If so, please contact us. We look forward to seeing where we can go, together.