Young Philanthropists Learn How United Way Is Creating Villages of Vital Services

Lucinda Armstrong (left), a licensed clinical social worker with Alexander and Associates, and Emily Herring, Mental Health Services Coordinator for Fairfield City Schools, discuss the state of youth mental health in Central Alabama.

It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child.

And it’s true. For children to grow up in the healthiest way, they require a positive network of people around them that extends beyond their parents to include friends, neighbors, other family members, teachers and role models in the community at large.

The strength of that village depends heavily on the school environment, said Lucinda Armstrong of Alexander and Associates. She’s a licensed clinical social worker with more than 20 years’ experience, who was on a recent lunch & learn panel for members of the Young Philanthropists Society.

Many schools, however, lack the personnel to target student mental health, Armstrong said.

“My sons went to Hoover High School, a huge school,” Armstrong said. “They had one counselor per grade, which is probably one per 700 kids. It’s just very limited, and they cannot address every concern of every child.”

In the panel discussion, Armstrong and Emily Herring, the Mental Health Services Coordinator for Fairfield City Schools, discussed the state of mental health among youth in Central Alabama.

Herring, who began working with Fairfield City Schools in 2020, said she’s seen a significant increase in aggression and grief among students since the 2020 school year was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared multiple quotes from students who had spoken out about issues they were dealing with.

One example she read said, “My brother was killed a few years ago, but ever since then, the rest of my family has never been the same. I don’t know how to describe it, but it feels like I lost my mom and my siblings that day, too. Everything has been different since that day.”

While supportive mental health services in schools are gradually increasing both locally and statewide, Herring and Armstrong pointed to a somewhat surprising obstacle in reaching more students: the stigma that parents associate with “mental health.”

“Kids are so ready to talk, but the stigma is so much stronger with parents than our students. Kids will come in. They’ll tell me everything they’ve ever thought and be so open. They are just ready to talk,” Herring said. “But often, if a parent were to find out that the student wanted counseling…I’ve had a lot of parents get extremely angry.”

Armstrong said strong reactions from parents often complicate her ability to counsel teenagers.

“I just think parents need to be a little more open minded about seeking counseling,” Armstrong said. “I have a teen client whose dad is absolutely opposed to counseling and says, ‘Just tough it up, boy.’ But the mom pays privately and sneaks her 15-year-old into counseling. That’s awful.”

A Success Story

Herring and Armstrong also took time to talk about the collaborative work between Fairfield City Schools (FCS) and United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) through the Fairfield Community Schools Strategy.

In particular, Herring highlighted a recent story in which a family of 14 experienced a total-loss fire. Through a coordinated effort by the American Red Cross, United Way staff in Fairfield, a host of other partners and Herring herself, the family was rehoused and given clothes, hygiene products and access to other resources.

“We were able to respond to the immediate crisis, but we were also able to continue to follow up day after day until this family had the resources they needed,” Herring said. “To me, that is the picture of what United Way is doing in our schools.”

Armstrong said she would love to see other places adopt a similar model to the Community Schools Strategy that’s working in Fairfield, saying the “Fairfield village” is strong.

The service coordination made possible through the Community Schools approach aligns directly with UWCA’s focus on Early Childhood Development & Education but also creates ready access to the many other services of United Way’s network of programs and partners.

For more information about all the ways UWCA seeks to build a better Central Alabama, visit

The recent youth mental health panel discussion was hosted for members of UWCA’s Young Philanthropists Society (YPS), a donor network of young professionals who live and work in Central Alabama. Other opportunities include volunteer events and chances to network with more established members of the professional community.

For more information about YPS, go to