Keep Oregon Well is a public advocacy campaign designed to reduce stigma surrounding mental and behavioral health, build a trauma-informed community, and give people the opportunity to learn more about mental health and stand with those struggling with theirs.

This ongoing volunteer spotlight blog series features some of the many caring, talented, passionate people it takes to spread the word about Keep Oregon Well throughout Oregon!

Keep Oregon Well Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Wilcox

Why does mental health matter to you?

I saw the effects of poor mental health. My dad’s mom owned a business making women’s hats and played piano at silent movie theaters until poor mental health put her in the poor farm, at age 35. I am privileged to play a modest role in preventing the repeat of such a waste.

Mental state propels us forward in ways and holds us back in others. My parents showed me how to act with love and respect, and encouraged my ambitions (including to be a US President). I was the runt in my neighborhood, so kids argued over who got stuck with me when we played sports. I would go home dejected and mom would say, “I’ll bet none of them can play guitar.” I would go to my room, play, and be transformed. Kids I see at Edwards have been through far more. I try to help them learn skills, gain confidence, and develop an identity of which they are proud.

What initially made you want to volunteer with Keep Oregon Well or Trillium? 

My dad transcended a childhood in orphanages with the help of mentors. Seeing the difference it made, I wanted to try, in my own small way, to be like them.

Tell me about your favorite volunteer experience?

I could note a girl who initially wouldn’t let me touch her to position her fingers on the fretboard, and then initiated a big hug before discharging. I could speak of a boy who was hesitant to start guitar lessons, and then was NEVER seen without the guitar we awarded him. However, I need look no further than yesterday to a response from a boy I was just starting. I ask students why they want to play guitar. This boy responded, “My family likes to listen to music, so I would like to learn to play so that I can play for them, and so I can do something for my mom that she can be proud of… and so I can teach my family to play.”

Keep Oregon Well is centered around wellness and self-care. Tell us about some of the ways you take care of yourself. 

Love and balance. I try to to make time every day for family, friends, exercise, music, literature, and work. I don’t sweat it when it doesn’t work out. In the last year, my wife and I have meditated nearly every day to improve abilities to be in the present, not the past or future. We’re just trying to be better versions of ourselves.

To close our chat today, do you have a favorite quote you would be willing to share?

Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”It’s hard to outdo Plato but, since our program just won a grant from the Les Paul Foundation, I’ll also quote Les, “If I had an idea, I didn’t just think about it, I built it.” Most persons don’t appreciate how much adversity Les overcame to be a legendary guitarist and inventor of guitar and recording technology. His resilience and vision make him a profound example for our program. Moreover, Trillium’s Edwards Guitar Program is one of the first such programs funded by the Les Paul Foundation. Because my dad and I used to listen to Les, and because he became such a hero for me, I am more proud and delighted than I can say to be so honored. We serve ourselves and our worlds by acting upon our hopes and dreams.

Is there anything you would add? 

I’m thankful that Trillium Family Services and, in particular, the generous and talented Edwards School staff, have allowed me to show up weekly and teach these kids for six years. My students and the Edwards staff give me more than I have given.

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