DENVER — The power of a single conversation should not be doubted.
A trio of Broncos players spent Tuesday evening at Urban Peak Drop-In Center for a facilitated conversation on mental health with youth experiencing homelessness in Denver — and the depth of conversation was evident. Safety Justin Simmons, center Lloyd Cushenberry III and running back Damarea Crockett joined a pair of Denver Broncos Cheerleaders for an hour-long session facilitated by WellPower that focused on the importance of mental health.
Simmons, Cushenberry and Crockett shared both the struggles they've faced and how they've overcome those challenges, and their presence seemed to encourage the youth in attendance to share their own stories.
"So many people look up to the players and the Broncos organization as pillars of the community," WellPower's Melissa Zotara said, "so just to have some players here to be with the youth … I think means so much to the youth, to be here and know that an organization like the Broncos is in their corner and on their side."
Zotara and other members of the WellPower staff joined the session to facilitate the conversation and provide a safe space for the discussions, which were at times raw and unfiltered.
For the youth experiencing homelessness, the session provided an opportunity to talk through some of the struggles they've faced. That's critical for many of the youth who spend time at Urban Peak, Zotara said.
"When you don't speak about your feelings and things that are going on in your life, it just builds and creates such tension and stress within you that it's hard sometimes to even function on a daily basis," Zotara said. "So having a space that's safe, having a space that is welcoming for these youth to speak about what they're thinking about — their mental health, whatever else might be going on in their life — is just so important for them. It really helps them grow, and it really helps to enable them to have a great life."
Simmons, who served pizza and wings with his teammates to the youth ahead of the session, emphasized the importance of having an outlet to protect one's mental health.
"Somebody to kind of listen to you and have your problems expressed verbally is so impactful and super helpful," Simmons said. "Sometimes even when you just say it out loud, and you have someone in front of you listening and they nod their head and they give you some type of relief — a hug, a gesture that shows they care for you, they notice you, you're being seen — even that just goes a long way."
Simmons noted that in his own life, that type of support has been critical.
"For me, too, it's helped so much having the community, the support, the people I've reached out to kind of help me over different aspects of mental hurdles in my life," Simmons said.
And on Tuesday, the youth at Urban Peak were able to take a step toward overcoming some of those challenges.
"For some, maybe it's not taking the step of talking about said hurdles in their life, but it's opening up the conversation," Simmons said. "So maybe a friend shares, and they're like, 'Oh, I didn't even know he or she is going through that.' And then they go off own their own in their day-to-day lives and eventually, those conversations grow. And then the community is better off for it.
"Mental health is super important because really all it is, is to open up the conversations for people to be seen and be heard."