JOHNSTOWN — One thing to come out of the pandemic is the realization for many that maintaining our mental health is just as important as maintaining our physical health. The lockdown forced many to admit to having symptoms of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Finding a support system during isolation can be difficult, so Pedro Rodriguez, of Johnstown, decided to take matters into his own hands, moving the support group he founded to a virtual format.
In March of 2020, when the world came to a halt and groups were asked to no longer gather. Rodriguez sprung into action, deciding to take his support group, Circle of Men, online. He said the group not only was able to continue with its current members, but it actually expanded.
“I thought that most men would have more pressing things on their minds as a result of the public health crisis and not be available to attend our virtual gatherings, but I was wrong and our membership actually grew. As it turns out, men were looking for ways to connect and a safe place to unburden the emotional chaos that the pandemic was creating,” said Rodriguez.
Circle of Men of Central New York was formed by Rodriguez after relocating from New York City in 2018. Rodriguez said he had spent several years as part of a weekly men’s group during his time in the city and was missing it when he moved to Fulton County.
“I was looking for a Men’s Group in the Central New York region or beyond, but didn’t find any Men’s Groups whatsoever. I was looking for like-minded men in the areas of exploring personal growth, personal development, emotional literacy, positive brotherhood, and a safe space to share personal life challenges, emotions, victories, dreams, and aspirations among other men.
As men we need a safe and sacred space that is distinct and beyond traditional recreational outlets such as: bars, parties, outdoors sports, or being with women,” said Rodriguez.
For several months, Rodriguez started having one-on-one breakfast meetups with three male friends. That group of four eventually started the Circle of Men of Central New York in July of 2018, something that Rodriguez said would allow for connection, community, support, encouragement, brotherhood, and friendship.
“My own personal spiritual values and my own struggles with depression, loneliness, and emotional conflict, were also contributing factors in starting a Men’s Group that might also empower other men going through similar struggles and desiring to have connection, brotherhood, and community among men,” said Rodriguez.
The group, Rodriguez said, is composed of men from “all walks of life.” He said they range in age, careers and even their home states.
“We have diverse backgrounds in terms of ages, ethnicity, beliefs, sexual orientation, political or social affiliations, religious affiliations, secular viewpoints or economic status. Our members are Caucasian, Hispanics, and African Americans, veterans, addiction professionals, certified life coaches, retirees, retired addiction counselors, clergy, a doctor in natural medicine, and manual laborers,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said the benefits of forming such connections goes past the scheduled meetings. He recalls a time he was sent to the emergency room and found himself being visited by a member of the group, or another time when he was going through some emotional conflicts and two different “brothers of the Circle” provided support.
“This Circle of Men has provided for a connection with other men, a safe space to share their feelings, deep emotions, tears and laughter, questions, life challenges, and sharing personal goals in the area of personal growth or professional development,” said Rodriguez.
Mental health and men, Rodriguez said, carries a stigma due to societal and sociological pressures. He said there is often shame and judgement that contributes to many men remaining silent about their mental health status.
“We do encourage and support individuals to seek professional help and assistance outside of our Men’s Circles. Our Men’s Group is not a therapy-based group nor a recovery based group, but nevertheless, our gatherings can be a therapeutic experience and it can also serve as a positive community for individuals in personal recovery,” said Rodriguez.
The group currently has eleven members that meet on Sundays every two weeks from 6 to 8 p.m. In response to growing interest, Rodriguez launched a Latino men’s group just this May. That group meets once a month on Sundays from 6 to 8 p.m.
Rodriguez emphasizes the humanity in needing support from one and other as we navigate through life. He said it is part of how we evolve as people.
“As men we are on an ongoing journey of learning emotional literacy, emotional wellness, emotional healing, and emotional connection, which are all definitely challenging tasks, while at the same time it can be rewarding learning experiences in our personal growth and personal development as human beings and as men,” said Rodriguez.
You can learn more by going to the website: circleofmencny.com or contact us via Email: [email protected], online at www.circleofmencny.com