It’s no secret that the mental health care system in America is broken. Individuals suffering from mental health illnesses such as major depression and schizophrenia are not all getting the proper care they need in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Gwendolyn Baker-Lassiter found herself in the mental health field in 2009, up close and personal to the many faces and destructive sides of mental illnesses. She started Save Us Now, Inc. with some colleagues out of a frustration with the lack of services that some of her clients at a large mental health agency in Washington DC were receiving. emPower magazine spoke with Baker-Lassiter about why she started Save Us Now, a 2015 emPower Player.
emPower: Can you tell me more about Save Us Now Inc.?
Baker-Lassiter: My co-workers and I got frustrated with some of the services that we couldn’t find for the clients in the cases we were managing. We were looking for resources like clothes, houseware and furniture. What we found was that the resources were either very limited, had dried up or there were only a few with too many people sharing too little. We were really frustrated with the process. We got together and found unconventional resources through retailers and a variety of out- of-the-box places.
We compiled these resources and started helping the clients more than ever before. You could say we were running an organization within an organization. It got to the point that our CEO and the higher ups got wind of our outside ‘digging’ and they shut us down. But just because I stopped doing it through them, didn’t mean I had to stop helping people. My husband I talked about it and we decided to start a non-profit. It was a slow process, taking almost a whole year to legally go through the steps to get the ball officially rolling. Some of the people I was working with fell off the wagon but most of them hung with me and helped with getting the organization launched.
emPower: Did your upbringing influence you in the work that you do now?
Baker-Lassiter: I grew up in a family of givers. My parents were always very active in the community. My father worked for the city in the 1960s when I was a little kid. Both of my parents have really big hearts for giving out of their own pockets. They help people who really don’t have enough money or food for their kids. I really did grow up in an environment of giving. It’s embedded in me and always has been.
I have a background in communications, with a degree in journalism. I started out working in broadcasting for about eight years—behind the camera; hands on working in the video booth and editing. I segwayed out of it and wanted to work more in the administrative field in management and that’s what I started to really focus on and pursue. I went from communications to working with mental health patients at a large agency.