Volunteer Strives To Improve Mental Health Around The Park

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With the stress of current events and living through almost a year in a pandemic, people are struggling with mental health now more than ever. As a volunteer with Burgers and Bands for Suicide Prevention, Anastassia Vangraefschepe is working to make mental health a priority in the community.

Burgers and Bands is a nonprofit organization, established by Ann Brennan and her son, Ethan, to let people know that they are not alone. Each year, they throw a music festival to spread awareness and raise money for suicide prevention.

Vangraefschepe met Brennan when she started working at her company, Ann’s Social Media and Marketing. After the first successful Burgers and Bands festival in 2017, Brennan asked Vangraefschepe to volunteer. The second festival in May 2018 tripled the donations from the previous year.

“When I got in, when I started talking with [Ann Brennan] and getting involved in planning the event, I realized how important it was to them,” Vangraefschepe said. “To change the conversation about mental illness in our community, and our direct community, that was their goal, like just right here, like we can help these kids right here.”

Brennan called Vangraefschepe the backbone of the organization. She has many roles within the organization and assists Brennan with everything from organizing the volunteers and sponsors to basic planning.

Vangraefschepe said she wants to be a part of the solution when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention.

“Everybody knows somebody that struggles,” said Vangraefschepe. “Whether it's themselves, whether it's a family member, whether it's somebody they went to college with, or a child in their child's classroom. There's a mental illness as a whole touch of everybody and the conversation is finally changing that mental health is a part of health.”

Growing up, Vangraefschepe said no one talked about mental health. She hopes to encourage her three children to know that they are not alone.

“I wanted my kids to know that if they were struggling at any point that they could come to me and tell me what was going on,” said Vangraefschepe. “Hopefully, by seeing my work with Burgers and Bands, they know that when we need help, we can ask for it.”

Brennan and Vangraefschepe have been approached with stories of Burgers and Bands making a positive impact in the lives of people who are struggling.

“We don't see a lot of bands at the event because people come to us, and they're so grateful that we're having an event, and you see people making a difference,” said Vangraefschepe.

She said that what stood out about Burgers and Bands was the positivity. Many mental health events and rallies focus on sad stories, but Burgers and Bands is designed to give people the resources they need, while also creating a positive atmosphere.

“The music is curated; there's not allowed to be any sad music,” said Vangraefschepe. “We're very careful in what we put out to make sure that people come and just have a really good time. But bringing that awareness as well.”

Though she is undoubtedly an important asset to the team, Vangraefschepe said her fellow volunteers all have a hand in the organization's success.

“We have the best army of volunteers I've ever seen,” Vangraefschepe said. “They're all so amazing and giving of their time and so willing to help, that things definitely changed. I don't feel like it's all on my shoulders, but I definitely have my hand in everything.”

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