‘Helpers’ reflect on 2021: Afghanistan, Skid Row, Latinx mental health

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LA-based Dr. Meena Said (left), Shirley Raines (center), and Sue Mancini (right) each help different populations in need but share similarities with one another. Their personal experiences inform their public service, and they’re able to balance stressful situations with self care. Photos courtesy of Dr. Meena Said, Shirley Raines, Sue Mancini.

This year included many stories of struggles and trauma, but Greater LA also highlighted hope through “The Helpers” series — about people making unique differences in their communities. 

Three of the Helpers we’ve featured over the past year are still active with their efforts, and they shared personal and professional updates as we reflect on 2021.

Dr. Meena Said, founder of Wellness Worldwide

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in September, Wellness Worldwide’s focus has shifted from medical aid to food aid. An endocrine surgeon based in Santa Monica, founder Dr. Meena Said works with people in the Middle East to aid a starving population that the UN predicts will hit 97% poverty very soon — the highest ever recorded in history of any population, she says. 

“It’s getting worse. We’re getting more desperate calls for help asking for food aid. Malnourished children are on the streets,” she says.

The work is not without sweat and tears, but Dr. Said says she’s built for work like this.

“Surgeons put in herculean efforts every day. I’ve taken those qualities and I’m pulling those two together and doing what I can do. I don’t want to look 20 years in the future and see that this largest humanitarian catastrophe on the planet was occurring, and I didn’t do all I could do to help.”

Shirley Raines, founder of Beauty 2 the Streetz

Shirley Raines, who started her nonprofit Beauty 2 the Streetz in 2015, hit the spotlight this year. Since we last spoke with her, she was honored with a CNN Hero award, given to those who show extraordinary will to act on their values to improve the lives of others.

“The world would have you think in order to be a hero, you have to be healed, and that's not true. As broken as you are, you’re still very much useful, you're still very much valuable. The thing with broken people is we’re just a little more rough around the edges. We’ll cut you a little more but that's just because of the sharp edges. There are a lot of sharp edges in Skid Row and a lot of people don't mean to cut you, they just can't help it. They are sharp. We gotta buff ‘em out. And that's what I think our work is about: buffing them out, making them not feel alone.”

Sue Mancini, owner of Sad Girl Creamery

We know ice cream can help when you’re feeling down, but Sad Girl Creamery goes a step further. Owner Sue Mancini uses her sweet treats to broach sensitive topics surrounding mental health and self care.

In 2021, she noticed friends and colleagues in the restaurant industry were able to take what they loved from their workplace and leave the rest.

“I've seen a lot of people in my community start their own thing, start selling out of their homes or street vending, and it's been very beautiful to see it flourish. There are a lot of people who go into the food industry because of dealing with their depression or anxiety in a tactile way. What I've learned is that [the pandemic] took a semi-positive role on [those] people being able to do something that will make them happy instead of working these long hours at a restaurant.”