Youth Mental-health Activist to Deliver Keynote at CHD’s 50th-anniversary Celebration on Oct. 20

SPRINGFIELD — The Center for Human Development (CHD) will share a 50th-anniversary celebration dinner with the community on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The event will feature keynote speaker Diana Chao, a youth mental-health activist and founder and executive director of Letters to Strangers, a global youth-for-youth mental-health nonprofit.

Chao’s story is one of hardship, creation, and healing. A first-generation Chinese-American from Los Angeles and a 2021 graduate from Princeton University, where she studied geosciences, history, and diplomacy, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 13 years old and is a suicide-attempt survivor as well as a suicide-loss survivor.

Chao founded Letters to Strangers (L2S) as a high-school sophomore. L2S is now a global youth-for-youth mental-health nonprofit impacting more than 35,000 people on six continents every year.

“Much of my own journey and the journeys of the youths we serve at Letters to Strangers took difficult turns because of a lack of community support,” she said. “The work that CHD does to bridge that gap in families’ needs is critical and deeply resonating. I am thrilled to be part of celebrating the countless individuals who have been fighting this long but fulfilling fight.”

For her work with L2S, Chao became the youngest recipient of NAMI’s Young Leader Award, was the youngest-ever winner of the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award, was named Oprah magazine’s 2019 Health Hero and one of 30 Global Teen Leaders in 2017 by Nile Rodgers’ We Are Family Foundation, and was the only American winner of the Global Changemakers 2019 cohort.

She will tell the audience at CHD’s celebration her personal story, from aspects of minority mental health — such as growing up below the poverty line with parents who didn’t speak English — to the power that even the smallest acts of kindness have had on her life. Incorporated within are strategies for maintaining mental well-being for ourselves and one another. Though her presentation has an underlying focus on youth, it is suitable for all audiences.

At the event, CHD will mark 50 years of serving people, families, and communities across Western Mass. and Connecticut. The celebration will feature a cocktail reception and dinner, along with an inspirational program, including remarks from President and CEO James Goodwin, the granting of the Founders Award, and Chao’s keynote address. Tickets to the event may be purchased at chd.org/50years.