Ashtabula County Dinner Theater

Over 50 Ashtabula County residents took part in a Mental Health Dinner Theater April 11 at the Pymatuning Valley High School Cafeteria in Andover. The Dinner Theater was organized by the Ohio State Extension Office of Ashtabula County, and the Ashtabula County Farm Bureau. A short play was designed to encourage attendees from the local agriculture community to discuss stress, the impacts of stress, and the resources available locally to deal with stress. The audience included farm families as well as many agricultural professionals who work with farmers every day.

The evening began with a free brisket and pulled pork dinner from Russell’s BBQ. As the audience finished up their meal, the show began. Andrew Holden, ag and natural resources educator from Ashtabula County Extension, welcomed the crowd, introduced the sponsors and special guest, and then thanked everyone for attending. The play occurred over three acts with time in between the acts for tables to discuss what happened. Facilitators were located at each table to help encourage conversations and ask preplanned questions related to the skit. Facilitators included OSU Extension employees, Farm Bureau board members, and local mental health organization employees.

The play itself was performed by local community members. The cast included David Thomas, Ashtabula County auditor, as Dan Brown the farmer; Marissa Sutton, Farm Credit Mid-America, as Jane Brown (Dan’s wife); Sydney Morrison, Pymatuning Valley FFA news reporter, as their daughter Sam; Andrew Holden, OSU Extension educator, as Bob the local Extension agent; and Ty Higgins, senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau, as the narrator.

The play consisted of conversations between characters that slowly share that Dan Brown is exhibiting signs of stress. With high cost, medical issues, and planting season coming up, Dan starts showing signs of stress like not eating regularly, mood changes, and more. When his family notices these changes, they encourage Dan to speak to Bob who was trained in Mental Health First Aid. Bob is able to share some information with Dan, like how stress is our body’s reaction to a perceived threat or burdensome stimuli or event. Bob also shares that while some stress can help motivate us, too much stress can lead to adverse physical or mental health problems. Chronic stress can cause many issues, from being unable to concentrate to feelings of hopelessness, to changes in eating habits, even thoughts of suicide. Bob finally encourages Dan to reach out to a local counselor to help him with the added stress he has been experiencing lately and gives him a list of local resources.

After the play and table discussions, Andrew Holden introduced a few representatives from local organizations who shared what resources they had available locally: Loretta Buell from Community Counseling Center, Kirsten Esch from Signature Health, and Daisy Asmus from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Bridget Britton, MSW, LSW, behavioral health field specialist in the Agriculture and Natural Resources program area for Ohio State University was also introduced and shared some of the resources available to the ag community, including a comprehensive list of mental health resources in each county in the state. Britton gets credit for bringing the play concept to Ohio State Extension, and worked with Andrew and Organization Director Mandy Orahood to provide the plans for the evening.

Ohio resources:
  • Ohio Mental Health Resource Guides by County can be accessed here.
  • If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call, or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. You can also chat at
  • Ohio Care Line: (800) 720-9616  The Ohio Care Line is a toll-free emotional support call service created by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and administered in community settings. Behavioral health professionals staff the Care Line 24 hours a day, 7 days/week. They offer confidential support in times of personal or family crisis when individuals may be struggling to cope with challenges in their lives. When callers need additional services, they will receive assistance and connection to local providers.
  • Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Find a Mental Health Service Provider can be accessed here.

Thank you to Ashtabula County Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Mid-America, and Centerra Co-op for sponsoring the Dinner Theater. Thank you to Pymatuning Valley FFA and Grand Valley FFA for volunteering to set up, serve food, and watch the children, at the dinner. A special thanks to Mandy Orahood from Farm Bureau and Bridget Britton, Behavioral Health Field Specialist, who helped make this event possible. Finally, thank you to those in the community who were willing to come and participate in this mental health education.

If you have questions about this event or the resources shared, please call Andrew Holden at the Ohio State Extension office in Jefferson at 440-576-9008 or email.  You can also reach your county Farm Bureau by calling 440.426.2195 or by email.

Andrew Holden is an Agriculture & Natural Resources Extension Educator for Ohio State University Extension.


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