In the bustling heart of Hartford, Connecticut, there’s a man on a mission, and his name is Ben Dubow. With a multifaceted background that spans the culinary world, nonprofit sector, and spiritual leadership, Ben serves as the Executive Director of Forge City Works, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing culinary and customer service job training for individuals facing barriers to employment. But his role extends far beyond the confines of a job title; it delves into the realm of compassion, advocacy, and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health. 

“For me, this work really brings together a lot of those elements,” Ben shares. “It resonates on multiple levels.” 

For Ben, the hospitality industry isn’t just about food and service; it’s about the people behind the scenes. He recognizes the prevalence of mental health challenges within the industry, from the stress of long hours to the toxic environments that can often pervade restaurant culture. Yet, amidst these challenges, Ben sees an opportunity for change, a chance to foster healthier workplaces and empower individuals to prioritize their mental well-being. 

“I’ve always been part of environments where these conversations were essential,” Ben reflects. “From my background in ministry to my personal journey, it’s been a path of self-discovery and advocacy.” His insights draw from his experience as a pastor and chaplain, recognizing the importance of open dialogue and support systems in managing mental health challenges. “We need to destigmatize the conversation,” he asserts, stressing the power of peer-to-peer support and practical interventions. “It’s about creating a culture where people feel comfortable asking for help and receiving the support they need.” 

He emphasizes the significance of cultivating environments that prioritize authenticity, vulnerability, and work-life balance. At Forge City Works, strategies such as suicide prevention training, use of cognitive behavioral theory and tools, and peer support networks are implemented to address mental health head-on.  

“We’re trying to train and equip our team with practical tools,” he explains, emphasizing the importance of support and destigmatization. In an industry rife with long hours and stress, Ben advocates for proactive measures, “We want them to know that it’s okay to ask for help and that we’re here to support them.” 

In Ben’s eyes, every individual deserves the opportunity to thrive, regardless of the challenges they may face. He’s seen firsthand the transformative power of compassion, understanding, and proactive support. 

One poignant incident reflects Ben’s commitment. A trainee Ben worked with in a similar program was struggling with anxiety and froze during a busy night on the line. Sensing his distress, Ben intervened, discovering the trainee’s silent battle with anxiety.    

Together, they devised a simple yet effective solution—a code word that the trainee could discreetly use to signal when he needed a moment to collect himself. This allowed him to step away from the line, take a breather, and regain his comfort without fear of judgment or reprisal.  

Reflecting on the experience, Ben underscored the importance of destigmatizing mental health conversations in the workplace, emphasizing that addressing these issues head-on and implementing supportive measures can unlock the full spectrum of human potential.  

Ben’s advocacy extends beyond the confines of his organization. Through initiatives like H.E.A.R.D. (which stands for Hospitality workers Engaging in community, Assisting each other, Restoring well-being, and Developing peer support skills), he provides a platform for hospitality workers to discuss mental health openly and seek support from their peers.  

For Ben, mental health isn’t just a professional concern; it’s deeply personal. Reflecting on his own journey, including his experience of coming out later in life and grappling with trauma and anxiety, he speaks from a place of empathy and understanding. 

Through counseling, therapy, and self-reflection, Ben has found strength, and he encourages others to prioritize their mental well-being proactively. “We shouldn’t wait until a crisis point,” he urges, advocating for a culture where seeking help is as normalized as going to the doctor for physical ailments. 

As Ben continues to champion mental health advocacy through his work and personal endeavors, he hopes to inspire others to join the movement. Whether it’s through supporting organizations like Forge City Works or simply engaging in open dialogue, Ben believes that together, we can create a world where mental health is prioritized, destigmatized, and embraced with compassion. 

In the end, it’s not just about breaking barriers; it’s about building bridges of understanding, empathy, and support—for everyone. 

Your support not only fuels our awareness campaign but also supports MHC’s life-changing mental health services, education, and advocacy efforts.

Together, we can make a lasting impact on mental health awareness in Connecticut. Donate or start a fundraiser here.

Learn more about Ben and the work of Forge City Works at: https://www.forgecityworks.org/

Join us each day in May to hear from community partners, staff, and MHC participants on how they #FaceIt. View past posts here.  

Looking for resources or support in CT but don’t know where to start? Visit MHC’s Resource Directory at https://www.mhconn.org/education/resources/

Kick off Mental Health Awareness Month in May with MHC! Don’t miss this opportunity to nourish your mind, body, and spirit in the heart of Hartford. Join us for a day of wellness, community, and empowerment at the Wellness Fair on Pratt Street.

Date: May 4, 2024

Time: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Location: Pratt Street, Hartford, CT

Learn more.