Fresh Takes

A week in the life: Greg Garcia of citiesRISE

A glimpse into how this social enterprise is transforming mental health policy and practice, one city at a time
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Greg Garcia holds a puppet used for mental health conversations.
citiesRISE is a global platform working to meet mental health needs in cities around the world—with a special focus on the mental health needs of young people. This mission-driven organization believes that by mainstreaming mental health services to make them more easily accessible, we can position more young people to grow into healthy, productive, resilient adults.

But what do they actually do all day? We asked their head of U.S. cities, Greg Garcia, to offer us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the organization’s work.


Greg Garcia and his coworker work from a coffee shop on the road
This photo was taken in Sacramento as my colleague Brian and I were preparing for a meeting with our partners at Sutter Health. Since we’re on the road a lot, we often use coffee shops as our offices.
Greg Garcia poses for a photo with members from Sutter health and the Mayor of Sacremento
Here is a shot of citiesRISE staff with some of our partners in Sacramento—including Sutter Health and the Mayor of Sacramento (no big deal). We met at the Steinberg Institute to update our partners on our latest work and planning around the citiesRISE model for “Mental Health Friendly Cities.”
Greg Garcia sits in a gyro restaurant in Seattle with local youth
This picture was from a meeting at a gyro spot on “The Ave” in Seattle, where my colleague Nissana and I met with area youth groups. We talked about our Youth Challenge Award and got feedback on our upcoming process.
My kids — and all kids in general — are a big reason why I do this work.
A screenshot of a tweet by Liam Zeitz 
This is a tweet from my colleague Lian Zeitz. In both Seattle and Sacramento, the data shows that the LGBTQ community has a higher level of youth homelessness, mostly stemming from young people being kicked out of their parents’ homes after coming out to their families. It’s important to understand the context and the intersectionality between LGBTQ issues and mental health so we don’t inadvertently create barriers or leave groups out of our work.
A collection of business cards collected at an event by Greg Garcia lay on a table
I meet with a lot of people in any given week. This photo shows a small sample of the business cards I collect from my meetings. (I don’t take pictures of people that I meet with because that would be creepy.)

Relationships are important in this work. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s good to have friends in all places, whether it’s big-system friends like Youth Development Executives of King County (YDEKC) or the homies at smaller community groups like Mother Africa in South King County.

Also, shout-out to Larry Itliong (illustration of him top left), who is one of my heroes. He fought for the rights of field workers in what later became the United Farm Workers (the UFW). Many of the youth I’ve worked with could use someone like Larry to organize and validate their experiences.
Greg Garcia holds a puppet CitiesRISE uses to talk about mental health
Frank is the unofficial mascot of citiesRISE. This picture is from a meeting where my colleagues and I discussed the finer point of using tools like Frank to help people talk about mental health. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about hard topics with an inanimate object. My colleagues in Nairobi use puppets to model specific scenarios, showing people what to do if their loved one has a mental health issue.
Greg Garcia and his kids pose for a photo beneath the Space Needle in Seattle
On weekends, my family and I like to hang out and walk around Seattle. Here, we’re visiting the newly remodeled Space Needle. My kids — and all kids in general — are a big reason why I do this work. I hope my kids don’t have to go through the same experiences I did growing up. In school, boys weren’t allowed to cry and were expected to be tough all the time. We need to do better for our kids and model what health and well-being can look like. I consider myself lucky that at citiesRISE, I get to be part of doing just that.

Published: April 10, 2019
Edition: Lift


The ideas and views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Evoke or Melinda Gates.