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Everyday Heroes: Robins woman continually works to better understand mental health

Jackie Smith Duggan
Jackie Smith Duggan

Jackie Smith Duggan of Robins is nominated as an Everyday Hero for her work in advocating for those seeking to improve their mental health. She and others are being featured in this occasional series honoring Everyday Heroes, presented by Fairfax State Savings Bank.

Jackie Smith Duggan asked a lot of questions when she was younger. It’s not a habit she’s outgrown. Instead, she embraces it in her pursuit of answers for improved mental health.

Smith Duggan is the executive director of Community Based Services at Penn Center Inc. and Chatham Oaks Inc., working with individuals in their homes, as well as providing educational training in Mental Health First Aid. This includes working with local law enforcement, first responders and other community emergency professionals in crisis intervention training. It’s a job Smith Duggan loves, though not one she imagined pursuing at the start of her career.

“I often say I ‘grew up in my profession’ at the Abbe Center as an intern,” she says.

She walked through the doors of Abbe Center for Community Care not knowing what she wanted to do with her degree in social work from Mount Mercy College. She was leaning toward children’s services, but her internship led her on a new path helping adults with mental health needs. She later earned her graduate degree from St. Ambrose University.

“It was when I worked with the individuals who were in need of the support that Abbe Center provided that I really began to understand what it was like to listen to someone tell their story, to encourage and in the end empower individuals to find the techniques that would be most helpful to them,” Smith Duggan says. “It was in this internship experience where I realized the importance of not only understanding mental health, but to simply talk about it. I grew up at a time that we simply said, ‘Oh that’s just how they are’ but never understanding the reasons why.”

She celebrates the advances mental health knowledge and care has seen during her 25 years in the field. This includes 10 years volunteering with the Linn County Chapter of National Alliance for Mental Illness, serving multiple roles on the board. Still, she knows more needs to be done. Duggan Smith doesn’t want anyone to feel alone and she plans to keep asking questions until people have the answers they need.

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