The First Step to Solving the Problem…. 

…is admitting there is one. And community, there is one. In operations, the first step to any project is identifying the objective. In common language, one could say it is acknowledging the problem. This blog series, which I hope to publish at least once a month will look at the problem and call it what is. Focusing specifically on the nonprofit sector, and with the values lens we at Benvenuti Arts use to guide our business.

(TW: Talk about suicide and mental illness.)

Friends, I want to take this opportunity to recognize September as Suicide Prevention Month. At Benvenuti Arts a majority of our staff identify as living with a mental illness. I am one of those staff. This is not a secret for me. If you’ve seen or heard my story of how I came to operations work, my career started as a mental health advocate with lived experience. 

I have stared suicidality in the face. I have spent time in the hospital after losing a blinking contest or two. And while those experiences are a decade back and no longer representative of my ability to maintain my wellness, I think it’s important to be honest about the real struggles working in the nonprofit sector can present to its workers. It is easy to get caught up in the never ending waterfall of work that we face. And in arts-focused organizations, it is even easier to hide these struggles in performance, comedy, and metaphor.

I will not lie to you, just a few weeks ago I found myself spiraling into a deep hole of unwellness, most terrifyingly I didn’t realize it. Had a friend not come to my house one afternoon, I can not say that I wouldn’t have blinked in that staring contest.

I am blessed that someone identified what was going on and to have the tools, support, and resources to respond as I needed to. But the problem, the problem I want to admit for our world of artists, nonprofit staffers, and humans in general – is while we preach values of wellness and rest, we do not hold ourselves accountable to them. We will tell those who work for and with us that they should prioritize self care, and then when spiraling into the dark, struggle to take the time we ourselves need, choosing instead to prioritize the work. 

The next step in an operations plan would be to create a strategy to address the problem. Community, I can’t tell you what that is. But I hope together we figure it out. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, Lifeline is there to talk. Dial 988 or visit them online for help.  

Alli Knapp is the Director of Operations and Human Resources at Benvenuti Arts. Originally from Piketown, Pennsylvania – Alli began their career as a Mental Health Advocate with the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Over the 15+ years since, they have been involved with human service organizations including Youth Collaboratory, Pennsylvania Youth and Family Training Institute, PA System of Care Partnership, and the PA Disability Rights Network. They spend their free time hosting karaoke and trivia at the Alpine in Beechview (Pittsburgh) right down the road from their house in the suburbs of Dormont.

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