Family Van works to create community awareness, support for mental health

MBTA bus.

Family Van is promoting its mental health services via an ad campaign with the MBTA.

3 min read

The Family Van, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated mobile community health program, has been serving the Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston for three decades.

In addition to bringing medical services to the community, the van now provides mental health support for clients as well.

Healthy Roads, which was launched in 2021, offers free personalized support to clients as they learn skills to help manage stress and mental wellness. In particular, the program helps those struggling with social isolation and adversity, teaching them new coping, problem-solving, and help-seeking skills. When needed, staff will provide referrals to specialized care for those who are experiencing acute and severe mental health distress.

Clients of Healthy Roads receive five personalized one-on-one sessions with trained community health workers either by phone or in-person, but data from the program show that even a single meeting improves the client’s outlook. The sessions are offered in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.

As part of the program’s outreach, a 16-week advertising campaign on MBTA bus routes throughout Family Van service areas, called Healing Together, was launched this summer. The campaign’s goal is to inspire intergenerational conversations about the importance of mental health and well-being, while also reducing stigma associated with addressing mental health.

Piper Derenoncourt, assistant director of Mental Health Equity Programs for the Family Van, said the ad campaign was more than a year in the making, the result of community meetings — especially with the van’s two advisory councils. “It has been co-created, co-designed and co-led by the community,” she said. “The Family Van team knew we wanted to do an anti-stigma campaign but our advisory councils really were in charge of developing the messaging and theme.”

The team worked with two community-based artists for the campaign, Ekua Holmes and Perla Mabel. “They are in touch with the strengths and challenges of each community,” said Derenoncourt.

The ad campaign includes the URL to the “Healing Together” website, which provides information about the program, but also invites the community to share their personal experiences and strategies for mental well-being.

“With this campaign, we want people to understand that they’re not alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s OK to ask for help, and help can help you feel better,” explained Mary Kathryn Fallon, assistant director of finance and operations for the Family Van.

More information about the Family Van’s services, locations, and schedules can be found at