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A man, Ray Foxworth, hands an award to a young woman, Shelnna Huynh. They are smiling at the camera.

2022 Dottie Lamm Leadership Award Winner Shelnna Huynh

// October 27, 2022

I want to be an anchor for other young girls I wish my younger self had

Every year the Dottie Lamm Leadership Award honors a young woman’s commitment to advancing and accelerating opportunities for women all across the state. We celebrate her resilience and leadership. Our 2022 Dottie Lamm Leadership Award winner is Shelnna Huynh of Denver. Here is her speech from our 2022 Annual Luncheon. 

If you were to ask me in high school what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said that I wanted to be a nurse. But truthfully, I wasn’t really thinking that far into the future because a part of me felt like I wasn’t going to be in this world for long.

My name is Shelnna Huynh. I am 20 years old and I am a first-generation student raised by Vietnamese immigrants. Finances have always been an issue growing up as my parents worked low-paying jobs. We relied on food stamps and government housing programs.

I struggled with my mental health throughout middle and high school. I used self-harm as a coping mechanism to turn emotional pain into physical pain. It brought me a sense of relief and helped me fall asleep some nights only for me to wake up wishing I was asleep forever.

I considered myself high-functioning with the ability to mask, because, despite the underlying scars hidden by long sleeves and pants, I had straight As, worked, did extracurriculars, and volunteered.

In December 2019, I wrote a suicide note and went to a bridge late in the evening around 9 pm after volunteering. Although I wanted to end everything so badly, I couldn’t because I was afraid. I stared out into the darkness for a while with my tears falling down silently along with the snow, thinking of how I was too hopeless and broken to get help.

About a year later, I built the courage to go to therapy. I found out that I am affected by depression. This put things into perspective because, for years, I believed that there was something innately wrong with me. I constantly felt that I was in a vicious cycle and I hated myself a lot. I now am working on embracing myself as I understand it’s okay to struggle. In fact, I’ve learned that I’m not alone. One of the most common mental health disorders is depression. Twice as many women experience depression at some point in their lives when compared to men.

I know that I can’t control when I feel depressed, but I can control how I respond to it. Life will continually give me challenges and reasons to give up, but I remind myself that I have gone through a lot and I can do it. I have learned that I am stronger and more resilient than I think I am.

Now, if you were to ask me what I want to do when I grow up, I would say that I am thinking of psychiatry. Accessing affordable mental health services was difficult. I want to be an anchor for other young girls that I wish my younger self had, and to improve the mental health of underserved populations. I plan to help individuals to thrive in their lives because mental health affects everyone.

The old me would never imagine that I am currently in my junior year at the University of Colorado Denver, majoring in biology and minoring in psychology and anthropology. I am a CNA for Denver Health, the treasurer for Mental Health Association, and a volunteer counselor for the Crisis Text Line.

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s value of promise is believing that there are infinite possibilities for women and girls to thrive. My story resonates with this value because I am still here today. Although a part of me feels nervous for what the future will bring, I am glad I did not end my life. I make the most of every day and take the opportunities given to me because I know I have the potential in life to succeed and I will continue to dream on.

Meet our 2021 Dottie Lamm Award winner

Meet our 2020 Dottie Lamm Award winner

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