A few years back, JC Seneca, who’s in recovery, spoke at a substance use meeting where he read different passages from books and publications, but the theme was uniformed.

"As I'm getting prepared for my day, the message was how your higher power works through you to help other people," he said.  

In the years since, that’s what JC Seneca’s done through the foundation that bears his name and through his businesses like Native Pride.

The JC Seneca Foundation, Native Pride and Harmonia Collaborative Care joined forces to offer virtual mental health service to the people of Seneca Nation and the surrounding rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population is rural, few mental health professionals practice in those areas — with about 60 percent of rural Americans living in a mental health professional shortage. 

In an effort to highlight this expansion of services, Native Pride will include a Harmonia Collaborative Care flyer that highlights these services in each take-out food order from the diner and to each customer of its convenience store.

Both his organizations will promote the services through their websites and social media pages, Seneca said.  

"It's putting that out there, so people may see that and if they do need help, they're able to go to that, in the time of need. It may not help them at the moment when they receive that flyer or see that post on Facebook,” he said. “But it's something that may stick with them."

Harmonia Collaborative Care expanded their services to help those in three Western New York counties. 

The organization has served in southern Erie County for nearly 50 years which borders Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties and now felt the expansion in those other two counties was needed, said Val Nowak, the chief executive officer of Harmonia Collaborative Care.

“The main issue is definitely transportation,” Nowark said. “A lot of people don’t have access to transportation at all, they have transportation they can’t rely on or they have people bringing them to appointments they can’t rely on.” 

Access to mental and behavioral health services in rural and native communities can be challenging because of isolation, lack of transportation and treatment options, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Telemental health services, like the ones being provided by Harmonia Collaborative Care, are one way to help address the needs of rural and native communities in behavioral health care.​​

In addition to challenges like transportation and treatment options, many Native people like Seneca are dealing with intergenerational trauma, like forced residential schools. 

At 11, Seneca’s grandmother was forced into the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. 

"She was down there and went there and was put to work and was there for a few years and then came back home and then went back there again," he said.

Another residential school, the Thomas Indian School, was built on the Cattaraugus Seneca Reservation.

"For our people here on a territory, unfortunately, trauma has been something that has been a recurring event for many, if not hundreds of years in our society," Seneca said. "It's something that's called intergenerational trauma and that continues to overlap, each and every generation that was born here on in our nation."

His own struggles with substance use and recovery has helped him cope with the stressors of COVID-19, he said. 

"It's given me the ability to go through this pandemic. It's almost like going through sobriety, getting sober, and entering into recovery and having to live a life differently,” Seneca said. “That's what many people in this world around the world are going through."

Seneca hopes his recovery can be a positive influence on his community and any gesture — like seeing a flyer — can help someone struggling with mental and behavioral health.

"Hopefully, through my experience and through my ability and vulnerability to talk with people and talk about this issue, that it may help somebody who's struggling right now, that may listen to something that I have to say that will help them to get them the help that they need," he said. 

And, like all of those years ago, Seneca echoes that same message from those books and publications he spoke of in that meeting.

“That's another example of a higher power connecting Harmonia Collaborative with me, and with what I have in my network, and to be able to use that network, and send that message to other people," he said. "It's because of our higher power speaking through us to help other people.” 

To learn more about the JC Seneca Foundation and the work they do, click here.