March 30, 2022

Courage & Compassion Awards: Daren Mitchell, Treatment Specialist

In celebration of our individual and collective resilience, creativity, and service, six outstanding individuals were chosen to receive a Courage & Compassion award from Cascadia. This honor is intended to recognize those coworkers whose superpowers were a source of strength and hope in the last two years. The recipients of the award were selected via an open nomination process and an independent review by a number of our peers from across the organization. It was a competitive process, and it demonstrated how extraordinary Cascadians truly are.

Daren Mitchell

Daren is the blueprint, and such an inspiration. He embodies all principles of servant leadership. Orchid is so lucky to have him on our team. He’s such a gem. This nomination is well deserved.

—Christian James, Orchid House Program Manager

It’s fitting that Orchid House Treatment Specialist Daren Mitchell posed for his Courage and Compassion Award photo on a day that boasted the kind of high-res, sun-streaked sky that makes the incoming spring feel like a sigh of relief. Because, to hear his colleagues tell it, that’s what Daren has been for Cascadia since he joined the organization in 2005: that sunny day that’s all the more appreciated because of how rare it is to come by.

“Daren’s continued energy, enthusiasm, and commitment have been a powerful force in creating a compassionate community at Orchid House,” Treatment Specialist Autumn Daggett said. “He’s always present at work with a smiling face and unconditional support for staff and clients.”

Eager, ardent words follow Daren wherever, and it’s hard not to notice. The people who talk about him reach for the strongest words in their vocabulary to describe their admiration for him: he always gives his best self at work. His commitment is endless. His compassion is unconditional. There are no increments with Daren—he’s an all-or-nothing kind of guy.

Well, really, just an all kind of guy, to be more accurate.

“I’m an outgoing person, and I like a challenge,” Daren said. He knows himself well, and he isn’t hesitant about sharing the qualities that make him such a fixture at Cascadia. And, unfailingly, those qualities—quick thinking, easy empathy, keen insight into human behaviors—do indeed show a dedication to finding challenges and moving through them.

“In distress or with situations that have violence, I’m front row, and that’s where I want to be,” said Daren. “I learned how to talk to clients, how to talk them down. I’m front line—that’s how I look at myself. When stuff happens, I don’t mind doing it, because you gotta think quick.”

Certainly, it’s due in part to this willingness to jump feet-first into tense situations and move through them with finesse and complete respect for the clients that made him a shoe-in for this award. But, surprisingly, that wasn’t what Daren thought of when he considered how his courage on a day-to-day basis shines through.

For Daren, it’s his consistent willingness “to step up and bring everybody together” that makes him a courageous person. It’s a quality he admires in himself, the way he can step into a room, see who’s having a hard time, and give them the feeling of connection that might bring a smile to their face.

“That’s one of my big passions,” Daren said, “making sure that morale is up. I’ve seen it all, I’ve been through it, so I pay attention.”

Autumn relayed a story about how clients she and Daren were working with had a specific concern. Daren made sure to facilitate a conversation with those clients so they could verbalize their grievances, brought the issue to staff, and “led staff in brainstorming and finding solutions to the issue,” Autumn said.

“Daren is an advocate for clients when their needs are not being met and a chance is necessary,” Autumn said. “Not only does he do work behind the scenes to support clients, he also empowers clients to have the courage to speak up for their needs.”

And Daren doesn’t cut off his understanding, compassion, and ability to fix situations at his work with clients. Rather, he also sees his coworkers as integral pieces of a large puzzle they’re all working to solve, and he very, very sincerely appreciates them for it.

“I’m gonna let anyone know that I appreciate what they’ve done. I always let not just clients, but staff, too, know when I appreciate something. I’ll put out positive notes for everybody to read, when it’s time,” he said.

Daren always seems to know when it’s “time.” Time to share his appreciation, time to challenge a client a little more, time to nod and listen. Sixteen years of experience will give that kind of insight to a mental health worker, surely, but there’s something else, too. The ease with which he sees and approaches circumstances seems more intuitive than learned.

“I just know exactly what to do on that floor,” he said, “where I need to be. It trips me out . . . I amaze myself sometimes.” There’s not an ounce of arrogance in Daren’s words, just pure curiosity at how he can know without knowing that someone in the living room needs company, or that a certain kind of feedback is going to motivate a client in the right way.

Perhaps this is just what it looks like when someone has found their calling. “In my mind, I feel like this is my calling, to be in mental health,” Daren said. “That’s why I’m still here, 16 years later: If I can get people to come to me and feel comfortable talking to me, this is what I need to do, where I need to be.”

If it sounds like what Daren is giving to Cascadia has him headed for burnout, don’t worry: He’s already been down that road and learned a lot from it.

“I got burnt out because I tried to overdo it,” he said. “My burnout was working every day, putting too much on my plate, trying to do more, trying to step in when I saw something wasn’t right. It was building up, up, up.”

Years ago, he took several months off to recuperate after a period of stress and overwork. Now, he seems to have his work/life balance system on lock.

“Once I separated my life and my job, it all became much easier. Once I leave the job, I’m Daren, I’m me,” he said. “You gotta find time in your life for self-care, you gotta find your way.”

The system works well for him: Daren has every intention of loving his job every single day until he retires from Cascadia. Unsurprisingly, even when that happens, Daren plans to continue following his passion.

“I’m still going to help people in some kind of way,” he said. “I would like to do more one-on-one. I feel like that’s a challenge, I can work with the person, and make sure that when a client moves on I can say, ‘this client gon’ be good.’” Daren paired his laugh with a wry smile, like he was coming up with some kind of scheme, rather than plotting to improve even more peoples’ lives. It’s hard not to laugh along with him. There’s just something about the atmosphere Daren creates that makes wherever he is the place to be.

There’s a number of reasons for that, but one that might outrank the rest: Daren has no ego-driven agenda. He just wants to be something good in the lives of the people around him.

“Even if there isn’t something I can do to help,” Daren said, “I still want you to know, hey, I’m here for you.”

The 2022 Courage and Compassion Award recipients are: 

Amy Driscoll, Program Manager, David’s Harp
Daren Mitchell, Treatment Specialist II, Orchid House
Janis Cleveland, Director of Nursing
Mick Nesmith, Senior Director of Primary Care, and Robert Snyder, Nurse Manager
Jeanne-Marie Bohenek, Peer Wellness Specialist, Woodland Park

Throughout the month of March, we will share the stories of these astounding individuals, culminating in a virtual celebration of Courage & Compassion recipients on Thursday, March 31 at noon. We would love for everyone who is able to join us.