Openly discuss your personal struggles- People of influence have an incredible platform to use their voice to change the thoughts of their followers. If people who struggle can openly share their stories, shame and stigma will begin to disappear from the conversation.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabrielle (Gabby) Leon Spatt, a genuine connector who is passionate about bringing people and organizations together to accomplish big dreams. A personal tragedy led Gabby to start volunteering with The Blue Dove Foundation, an Atlanta-based non-profit focusing on mental health and substance abuse education, outreach and awareness through a Jewish lens. Gabby transitioned from board member to staff member in April 2019. She devotes her time to her professional role along with community engagement through different leadership roles.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Apersonal tragedy led me to start volunteering with The Blue Dove Foundation — an Atlanta-based nonprofit focusing on mental health and substance abuse education, outreach and awareness through a Jewish lens. I quickly transitioned from a board member to the organization’s first staff member in April 2019. Working with The Blue Dove Foundation has helped me with my grieving process of losing my younger sister to an opioid overdose at age 30. Being involved and trying to make change happen for others when they need it most is the only way I know. I see how much connecting with people on a personal level means and how many of them are looking for light as they struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues every single day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think the most interesting thing was the day I realized our organization had started to grow outside of Atlanta. I read a great article online, and I wanted to reach out to the author for a conversation. Luckily, the author responded to me and in the first line they said “Oh, I know The Blue Dove Foundation. We just used some of your resources for our Mental Health Shabbat Dinner we hosted.” I couldn’t believe that my startup nonprofit based in Atlanta had its resources make their way to the northeast! That was the first “aha” moment like this; fortunately they’ve continued and it catches me off guard every time. It offers little reminders of accomplishment and success. The biggest shock was when we received a call from the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work alongside with them on mental health and substance abuse topics through a Jewish lens.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Funny mistakes — so many! I think you have to be able to find humor in everything and be able to fail, look back and laugh. We wanted to continue expanding our storytelling platform, #QuietingTheSilence, and publish a book. Not knowing anything about book publishing, I called a few friends who have published books, asked them a few questions, talked to their book agents and began my outline. The story focused on individuals sharing their personal mental health stories in hopes of eradicating shame and stigma of mental health and substance abuse. I pitched a few Jewish celebrities who I know have been open about mental health topics to share their stories in the book. The response I kept getting back was “Who’s publishing the book? We can only do it with a big publisher.” The publishers and book agents I’d spoken with were only interested in the book if the celebrities were signed on already. I felt like a puppy running in circles at my own tale, so I just decided to self-publish the book with Amazon which actually turned out to be pretty amazing and super easy to do.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Impact can be such a tough thing to measure, especially if the work you’re doing is more personal. There are several indicators of social change that we keep an eye on to help us understand and conceptualize the impact we’re making:
- Shifts in definition– Through our education, awareness and outreach, we’re noticing our community seeing the issues of mental health differently as a result of our work.
- Shifts in behaviors– Behaviors are key for social change. Understanding, compassion and empathy for those with mental illness is increasing constantly and the idea that mental illness is an illness just like cancer or heart disease is understood more and more.
- Shifts in engagement– The biggest way for us to see change is through engagement. We see virtual and in-person (before COVID-19) events taking place more frequently and our social media community is sharing our content more often, which helps us believe that individuals are more comfortable engaging with mental health within their personal networks.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I can tell you the story of 19 individuals who have helped our cause. These 19 individuals have shown their vulnerability, empathy and their darkest times in hopes of saving a life. These brave storytellers have raised their hands and joined us in publishing a book that’s focused on raising awareness, understanding, support and hope for those who struggle with mental illness and addiction. They’ve all shared their incredibly personal stories in our #QuietingTheSilence book, which is a collection of personal stories where real individuals share their anecdotes and perspectives related to their own life-changing experiences involving mental illness and addiction in hopes of showing individuals they’re not alone.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
YES! More than anything, it would be incredible to see communities and society de-stigmatize individuals who suffer from mental illness and addiction. For instance:
- Openly discuss your personal struggles- People of influence have an incredible platform to use their voice to change the thoughts of their followers. If people who struggle can openly share their stories, shame and stigma will begin to disappear from the conversation.
- Fund more mental health resources in schools nationwide- If we can begin to make a difference in children’s lives and lessen the stress they’re feeling today, they’ll grow up in a much safer environment.
- Expand the definition of mental health- Mental health is often used interchangeably, and if we can expand on what it means when we reference it individuals will begin to have a much more clear understanding of the term.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is an idea of thinking and then actually doing. Great leaders can often live in the moment, are ready to go with any brainstorming opportunity that comes to them and act fast.
- Live in the moment- While their brains are always thinking, they can compartmentalize and be in the moment with the people they are with or the project they are working on.
- Brainstorming- Quick on their toes. They see or hear something and start ruminating on how it can connect or impact something or someone they are connected to.
- Act Fast- This doesn’t mean that they have to be the one doing the work or executing on the opportunity. They’re the person that’s pushing the idea or opportunity forward and know how to find the right people to help them be successful.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Everything takes longer than you think- Conversations, talks, writing, reviewing; everything takes longer. Distractions come up, you can go off on tangents, driving to meetings — you name it and it can happen. I’ve learned you have to plan longer for everything or you’ll regret it!
- When you figure something out about social media, you’ll already be behind- While I’m a millennial, I’m not as social media savvy as we’re supposed to be. I’ve made social media my personal stretch project, but I also know that it’s important for me to recognize my weaknesses and bring in a consultat to support me.
- You can be creative too- I never thought of myself as a creative person, and I’ve recently surprised myself. When I’m doing the work that I care about and excites me, I’m thinking differently about what will make an impact and how.
- Never stop hustling — there’s always an opportunity, you just have to look for it- My mind is always turning. I’m always thinking, how can I connect someone to someone else or how we can collaborate with a like-minded organization to further our work and mission.
- Talk to everyone! You never know what will come of the conversation or you may impact an individual- I was part of a meeting organized by a well-known retired businessman in Atlanta. It was him and five women around the table all working in mental health. He learned that The Blue Dove Foundation’s work is through a Jewish lens and said I should speak with a local influential Rabbi who has an amazing perspective on this subject. I happened to see that Rabbi the next night at a community event who couldn’t believe I saw the businessman who he hadn’t seen in years. Next thing I know, I’m in a deep conversation with the Rabbi and then recording his personal mental health story that he’d never shared before but wanted to now because he knew he could make a difference.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think the best movements come organically and authentically. A movement I would love to see is around understanding and acceptance. I think we have recently lost sight of that, and we should collectively stand together to bring more love and gratitude to our work, conversations and everyday life experiences. Simple things like saying “Hello” to someone or opening a door expresses kindness which may be just what someone needs that day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I keep a note in my iPhone of quotes I hear or read so I can quickly access them. One I always reference is one I don’t actually know where it came from. “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as you can.” This resonates with me, because it connects to the Jewish value of “Tikkun Olam,” or repairing the world. I grew up with Eastern European grandparents who survived the Holocaust. They were always telling me to be kind to everyone and accept everyone. That is something that resonates with me constantly and why I believe in our work and volunteerism.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Sheryl Sandberg. I’d be so curious to ask her “How do you do everything? How are you successful at home, at work and overall? Can you be a woman who does it all at 100% all the time?” I admire how she’s been a business woman with children, created a movement of her own to lean in and openly gone through personal struggle and loss. She’s shown people that you can and will persevere through trauma, even when it’s the worst kind.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
- LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/gabrielle-leon-spatt-ab20937/
- Facebook — www.facebook.com/thebluedovefoundation
- Instagram — www.instagram.com/bluedovefoundation
- Follow The Blue Dove Foundation #QuietingTheSilence hashtag on social media channels