Queen Maxima with rural youth Texas

Credit: Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

“It’s become clearer to me that so many youths are struggling with the same mental health issues that I’m going through,” said Aidan Christensen, Youth Ambassador for the Resilient Bastrop County initiative, co-creator of the Bastrop County Youth Summit, and first year student at the University of Texas at Austin. “And one of the biggest issues related to that is having adults see youth mental health as ‘less than’ adult mental health.” 

Aidan was one of several youth delegates who gathered recently at Bastrop’s Kerr Community Center to speak about mental health issues facing young people today. Panel members shared their personal mental health challenges, stressing the benefits of community support and resources for youth mental health and well-being. 

But the gathering wasn’t quite like other events often hosted on the site. In addition to Resilient Bastrop County team members, Hogg Foundation staff, local community leaders, and Kathy Langlois, representative from the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership, the Youth Ambassadors met with a most unlikely visitor. Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands was also present, listening attentively.  

Queen Máxima has a passion for youth mental health as the honorary chairwoman for the Netherlands-based Mind Us foundation, which works to support the mental health of people between the ages of 12 and 27. Meeting with the Youth Ambassadors in Bastrop gave her an opportunity to opportunity to meet in small groups with youth, aged 14 to 21 from rural Texas, who are working to strengthen resiliency, mental health, and well-being for themselves and their communities. In addition, she was able to connect Mind Us with the Hogg Foundation, learn more about Hogg’s support for collaborative and community-based programs like Resilient Bastrop County, and explore the possibilities for cooperation between the foundations at the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership Exchange taking place in 2024 in the Netherlands. 

Resilient Bastrop County

Funded through a Hogg Foundation Collaborative Approaches to Well-Being in Rural Communities grant, Resilient Bastrop County is committed to creating systems change in the Bastrop County community so that all generations thrive.  

The Youth Ambassadors and the Youth Summit have been a powerful way for the initiative to include the voices of young people. In Bastrop County and elsewhere, youth have traditionally been left out of conversations related to community priorities. 

“This is real,” said Krystal Grimes, the Inclusion and Resilience Director for Bastrop County Cares and coordinator of the Resilient Bastrop County initiative. “With mental health, we all have times in our lives that we deal with challenges. We need to normalize that to support our youth and our communities.” 

Youth Ambassadors

For Jade Elam, an 11th grade student at Smithville High School, the Youth Summit was one such empowering experience. Connecting with peers who also faced mental health challenges and learning more about community resources at the Summit helped her see that youth in Bastrop County have “great opportunities and adults who care about us and take our mental health into consideration.” 

“Since becoming a Youth Ambassador it’s been a lot easier to speak about my mental health,” she added. “One of my goals now is to talk to kids and anyone my age about mental health, explain to them about my struggles and what I’ve been through, and see if I can help them out.” 

Young People in Their Own Words

Before concluding her visit to Bastrop, Queen Máxima took time to engage even more personally with the Youth Ambassadors. Joining two small discussion circles, she invited them to speak to her about the benefit of community-centered initiatives to support youth mental health and the need for mentally preparing youth for life beyond high school. 

Benjamin Mercado, a first-year student at Austin Community College especially appreciated the opportunity to be heard and included in Resilient Bastrop County’s work focusing on youth mental health. 

“I think the most important thing [adults can do] is to acknowledge us and lend an ear….to listen and be open minded.” 

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