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2 AIR Members Win Rosalynn Carter Fellowships

It’s one small step for AIR, but a giant leap for coverage of mental health issues.

Ann Heppermann, co-creator of Mapping Main Street, and Peabody Award-winner Nancy Solomon, have been named winners of the highly competitive Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. That’s two out of 6 awards to U.S.-based journalists.

Ann and Nancy will receive $10,000 and a year to produce ground-breaking investigative stories that will change the way we think about mental illness. They will travel to the Carter Center in Atlanta for intensive training from mental health experts. And, they get to meet the former First Lady herself, a pioneering advocate for mental health parity.

Ann will produce a multi-platform project about pre-teen anorexia, in collaboration with Ms. Magazine and the Kitchen SistersHidden World of Girls project. Nancy will explore how K-12 schools are failing students who face serious mental health challenges.

I caught up with Ann this morning while she was watering the plants on her rooftop garden. “I’m really honored and excited,” she said breathlessly. “Anorexia is a growing disorder among younger and younger girls and the fact that it’s hitting them before they reach puberty is shocking and of nationwide significance. I want to investigate what’s causing
this… what’s out there in our culture, society, food…I want to know why are they so concerned about their body image?”

A Carter fan, Ann is also jazzed about the chance to interact with Rosalynn Carter.

Nancy is also feeling the joy today. “As an independent, there is no way to do longer projects without some source of funding, so I’m thrilled to get the Carter Fellowship. Time is everything for us radio producers. It’s the only way to really take an in-depth look at something and produce thoughtful radio.”

Nancy is planning on producing a series about struggles that kids with mental illness face in school. “I came upon this story idea hearing horror stories from parents I know in my local school district — one very bright kid I know missed more than 100 days of school this year due to anxiety attacks,” she said.

“Educators have come a long way in accommodating kids with physical and learning disabilities but most schools have virtually no services, or sensitivity, to kids with mental health issues like depression or anxiety.”

It’s been a banner year for both Ann and Nancy.

Ann received a Web 2.0 Fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center at U.Cal. Berkeley. It was there that she met Ms. Magazine Associate Editor Jessica Stites and hatched the idea of a multimedia collaboration.

Nancy’s documentary Mind the Gap: Why are Good Schools Failing Black Students? garnered major awards and praise from listeners and public radio stations. Mind the Gap was Nancy’s first one-hour documentary and she’s anxious to put that learning back in action. “Sadly, that’s one of the things I learned — the market for one-hour docs is so limited, it makes more sense to produce a series that can run from within an existing magazine show.”

Public radio has always fared well in the Carter Fellowship Competition. Past winners include Monica Brady, Aaron Glantz, Tanya Ott, Elaine Korry, Michelle Trudeau, Joanne Silberner, Alix Spiegel. They’ve produced some truly remarkable work, such as Alix Spiegel’s Stuck and Suicidal in a Post-Katrina Trailer Park.

Here’s wishing Ann and Nancy a wonderful and sane year.