As Simon Sinek says, “start with the WHY.” The WHY is at the heart of Meerkat Village.
My co-founder, Dan Richason, is the father of 3 adult children and has over 30 years of experience working with teachers, therapists, families, and children with social, emotional, and behavioural challenges. My co-founder, Jared Yellin, is a non-technical tech founder and father of 2 young children with another baby due in November 2022. His WHY is always centered on his children and he committed his career to building and scaling impactful technology with tech companies created by diverse founders.
In my own case, my WHY is deeply personal.
Born to young parents, I grew up in rural Arkansas. My family was poor but so was every family around me. Like many, my family also had a history of alcoholism and mental illness. In fact, my great grandmother died in an institution, most likely from extreme postpartum depression. This fact was hidden for decades, and the truth was only uncovered when records were requested when I was going through my own challenges as a teen.
I battled depression and a devastating eating disorder that started when I was 12. We had little access to care and certainly no resources to address an eating disorder. In desperation, my well-meaning parents sent me to a treatment facility for troubled youth a few hours away. The entire community raised money for my care because my family couldn’t afford it. It was obvious the staff had no experience with eating disorders, so I told them whatever they wanted to hear so I could be released. I succeeded.
After returning home, I descended further into a mental black hole and my weight plummeted. My mother often checked on me throughout the night to make sure I was still breathing. My parents, my family, my community watched helplessly not knowing what to do. We did find a therapist over an hour away that had personal experience with an eating disorder. I started seeing her once a week, a great sacrifice for my family to cover the costs and make the trek for my therapy session. My therapist worked with my pediatrician and family to get me on the right track and my health improved. It absolutely took a village to help me recover as a teenager. I shared my story for the first time on May 7th, 2022, to celebrate Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.
My WHY becomes even bigger as a mom in a transracial family with 3 teenagers. One of my children is autistic and has several mental health diagnoses. Two of my children were adopted and experienced extreme poverty and trauma. I’ve spent almost 20 years advocating for my children and navigating the system of care. For one of my children, I’ve interfaced with more than 150 different therapists, specialists, teachers, classroom assistants, physicians, school administrators and afterschool providers in the past 15 years. I signed and sent countless consent authorization forms to give everyone permission to discuss my child’s case. I’ve spent thousands of hours coordinating and communicating with everyone to keep the team “on the same page.” Two of my children are black and had no access to care before, during or after their births. Their first mothers faced extreme conditions and loss and their desperation granted me children to love and raise.
My WHY includes those mothers. Through both adoptions and well after, I’ve relied on a tremendous village to provide valuable insight and support. While my children currently have access to great health care, education, and family support, I worry tremendously about their ability to continue to grow and thrive in Pittsburgh as a black man and a black woman. The “most livable city” is certainly not livable for all.
All three of my children, and my future grandchildren, deserve high quality, accessible, collaborative, and equitable care.
I know that there is a way to provide better care to our children, especially those in need. Like so many parents, I’ve felt powerless, desperate, and frustrated. In my professional life, I built highly effective, global teams that tackled big technical problems. In my personal life, I couldn’t quite understand why my kids’ “treatment teams” didn’t behave as a team.
I know there is no real reason that treatment teams, caregivers and family members can’t communicate and collaborate. No reason. Thus, if I can see a better way, I owe it to children and parents everywhere to make that way a reality. I owe it to children and parents, independent of their race, ethnicity, culture, and economic status. I owe it to children and parents to bring Meerkat Village to the world.
If you are interested in Meerkat Village, reach out to Meerkat Village to learn more.