Promoting Mental Health Awareness


“Our long-term goal is to implement this model and acquire additional properties in the region to serve different demographics such as the elderly. We are always looking for volunteers in all sorts of skilled areas.” — Courtney Kelleigh


As the reigning Miss Georgia United States, Courtney Kelleigh uses the pageant’s spotlight to bring awareness to the plights of mental illness and the rising number of suicides, primarily caused by isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, about 47% of adults nationwide have reported negative mental health impacts during the pandemic—a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels.

During the pandemic, Kelleigh’s passion for helping people with mental illness became personal with the loss of a friend to suicide.

A relatively newcomer to South Georgia, Kelleigh, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s in public health from John Hopkins University, moved to Thomasville in 2020 to start an internship at Georgia Pines Behavioral Health Center.

Through her work with Georgia Pines, Kelleigh started Outreach Angles, a domestic nonprofit organization focused on assisting underserved individuals and reducing the suicide rate within South Georgia and North Florida.

Connecting with various local agencies and established mental health facilities, Outreach Angels sponsors events and programs, such as the teddy bear program that lessen the negative impact of social isolation.

With assistance from a cadre of volunteers, Outreach Angels provide virtual and mobile crisis de-escalation techniques to address various mental health crises, including psychiatric, psychological, physical, and spiritual, specifically for individuals who lack financial resources to seek help.

Gaining help along the way, Kelleigh teamed up with Chris Sheffield, a native of nearby Cairo, Georgia, and former defensive back for the Pittsburg Steelers and Detroit Lions, who now serves as an Outreach Angel celebrity ambassador.

“He has done an exceptional job promoting and getting the word out about the organization’s existence and goals,” she says of Sheffield, who operates Lion of Judah, a transitional home focused on preventing recidivism for people released from the prison system.

Moving forward, Kelleigh is working on Project Sunlight, a shelter for housing-insecure women facing mental health issues.

As part of Outreach Angles, Project Sunlight is scheduled to be fully operational in 2022, with six to eight women (18 to 24 years old) struggling with housing instability and varying levels of mental illness.

“Our long-term goal is to implement this model and acquire additional properties in the region to serve different demographics such as the elderly,” she says. “We are always looking for volunteers in all sorts of skilled areas.”

Establishing Outreach Angels and Project Sunlight was made possible through an abundance of local support. “We’ve had an excellent response from Thomas County, including attendance by various council members at our events,” she says, noting that Halcyon Home, a local nonprofit that offers similar services, has been highly supportive. “Without the warm support of the community, I, and we, would not be where we are today. I’m grateful for the Southern hospitality I have experienced in this special place.”

Growing up in Saratoga Springs, New York, at 11-years-old, Kelleigh was inspired by her mother, a former Miss New York runner-up, to enter her first pageant.

As Miss Georgia United States, Kelleigh values the pageant’s outreach, which makes it possible for her to promote the importance of mental health awareness. “More people are listening, especially on social media channels,” she says, but admits most people are initially curious about the Miss United States Organization. “It really is telling what people’s interests are when you get 400 likes for posting a picture and four likes for an editorial about community mental health care, but at least the information is reaching more people.”




Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.