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In the age of Zoom calls and all-day happy hours, it’s been fairly easy to make friends in strange faraway lands – like Chicago, where our next featured guest Joel hails from.

We recently sparked up a partnership with Hope For The Day to bring their clinically-back mental health curriculum to our brewery in Coney Island. Little did we know that through this partnership we would find a good friend in Joel – learn more about him and try not to want to be his friend, we dare you!

Tell us about yourself and what Hope for the Day does.

My name is Joel Frieders. I’m a Scorpio, I like long walks on the beach and fluffy white pillows. I have three kids, 12, 10, and 10. Yes I have twins. Yes I drink. But I’m also married to the literal woman of my dreams. I have no idea what she sees in me, but I feel like if I ask her about it she’ll change her mind, so I just let that whole topic ride and I continue to love the hell out of my wife. And, yes my kids, sure sure. 

My day job is that I run a compounding pharmacy in Aurora, Illinois with my parents. I am also currently an alderman (elected city official) in the small city of Yorkville, Illinois, and my second term will be up in May 2021, where I will return to life as a regular citizen without those special powers (we are responsible for everything wrong in your life, duh). I am also a beer geek, running the social media page @Hopsmash with my friends Ryan, Ang, and Ben. 

Now, back to why we’re here: Hope for the Day (HFTD), headquartered in Chicago, is a non-profit movement empowering the conversation on proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. We work to punch stigma in the throat and raise the visibility of mental health resources for those who might need them, while providing a clinically-backed peer-led mental health education curriculum to schools, corporations, businesses, and community groups, in addition to encouraging companies in every industry to take action in advocating for mental health, which in turn prevents suicides. 

I know that’s all a huge mouthful, but to put it bluntly: we start conversations, remove barriers to people getting help, and we remove stigma by making our mental health ok to talk about. Our driving principle is IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK, and we firmly believe that if we’re able to talk about the stuff that sucks, and understand that we’re all works in progress, we grow stronger together. It’s ok to have a crap day, and it’s ok to talk about. It’s also ok to have a great day, and it’s also ok to talk about that. Plain and simple.

Discussing mental health while partnering with a beer brand could be viewed as controversial – thoughts around this and the importance of breaking the stigma around discussing mental health in the craft beer industry?

I LOVE THIS QUESTION. When we released our first collaborative beer with Old Irving Brewing, called Hops For Hope, in 2019, a large number of people from all over the internet typed in all caps about how we shouldn’t be talking about mental health while there’s alcohol involved. 

Yes, alcohol is a depressant. Yes, alcohol is responsible for countless deaths over the years. Yet, alcohol is also specifically responsible for taking the life of our founder and my friend, Jonny Boucher’s uncle, who drank himself to death with a bottle of scotch. BUT. If we don’t talk about the things that are uncomfortable to talk about in the specific arenas where these problems are created or exacerbated, we miss a huge opportunity to simply encourage people to talk.  

If we didn’t talk about gambling addiction in casinos, we would be missing out in connecting with specifically, those who might need those resources. If we didn’t talk about safe sex in high schools and colleges, we would just be waiting at the gates of adulthood with a bottle of antibiotics, a shake of the head, and a dismissive “welp, you shoulda’ kept your pants on”. None of that’s helpful. Nor would not talking about mental health and alcohol together be helpful to the overarching goal of simply wanting people to stay alive. 

We need to be proactive and meet people where they are, not where we expect them to be.

Hops For Hope was the first craft beer ever to include vetted mental health resources and crisis numbers right there on the can. Sure, alcohol can be and is a problem for a whole slew of people, but that reality means it’s also a billboard for starting conversations we’ve been too afraid to have for way too long.

All that being said, it’s inspiring as hell to see Coney Island Brewing confronting the silence of stigma around mental health as an alcohol producer. 

How has HFTD pivoted its support approach during COVID?

I’m super proud of how we took a buttload of covidian lemons and made some pretty amazing coronial lemonade in the first few weeks of our current pandemic. If I can be selfish for a second here, I had four amazing craft beer x Hope For The Day travel commitments and presentations across four states that were cancelled over the last week of March. Yes, of course I understand that the safety of those around me is more important than me getting to visit a whole bunch of breweries and present in front of a few thousand craft beer geeks, but I was super bummed, yo. 

As an organization, our bread and butter (proactive suicide prevention butter) is being able to interact with people at concerts, and festivals, and art shows, and breweries, and large public events, so to have that all chopped off proved devastating to the future of our mission. 

Thankfully I work with people at HFTD that are smarter than I am and we instantly started focusing on how we could continue our outreach and educational programming through Zooms and GoToMeetings and CrowdCasts and Google Meets or Hangouts (whichever one they’re using today). We took our monthly, in person, education program from the Chicago Public Library in Logan Square (across the street from our coffee shop, Sip of Hope) and made it a twice weekly virtual offering. We reimagined how we could make the biggest in-person impact and translated it to a webcam/screenshare zoom zoom and met people where they were, which for most of us, was in their pajamas on their couch.

While it sucks to miss that personal connection from being with people, technology allowed us to drastically increase our reach simply because now people didn’t have to worry about traveling somewhere to get educated. We did have some complaints that the commute from the bedroom to the couch was a bit too much to ask for, so we started encouraging more and more people to zoom in wherever they were, as long as it wasn’t offensive. 

What have you been up to in quarantine to stay productive or pass the time?

I have a severe case of ADHD, and having had to cancel everything I was excited about doing for the foreseeable future, damn, I could’ve taken a pretty serious dive into some depressive episodes, but I just worked to keep my hands and my mind busy. 

My honey-do list around the house was already pretty substantial, but being able to knock out the entire thing in the first week of quarantine allowed me to set up my basement office to get back to playing my guitar. I’m a recovering musician, so while I don’t gig out at all anymore, the guitar offers me a chance to turn off the part of my brain where I’m beating myself up for not doing enough. Being creative, after all of that organizing the hell out of my little corner of my home gave me something to do that I could share with my friends on the internet and help them take their minds off this world of suck at the same time. 

When I was in college I used to play guitar for a few houses worth of friends and we’d all just sit around as I noodled the night away, so being able to recreate that vibe has been super necessary. In fact, one specific friend of mine moved to California after his tour of duty in the middle east, so I’ve had maybe two tree late night sessions where I facetime him and he sits there and listens while I pick out a few diddies. 

The diddies have been helpful. #helpfuldiddies

What is the first thing you want to do when everything re-opens? What are you most looking forward to?

I want an ice cold beer FROM THE TAP. There’s something so refreshing about being served a beer in a glass, and as a fanboy of my friends’ breweries, it is my duty to hit up my favorite Chicago-land breweries, line up some coldies, and hug the hell out of the people who brew the beers I love to love. Just watch, I’m going on a Chicago tour of the yums: Pipeworks, Old Irving Brewing, Marz Community Brewing, Werk Force Brewing, Oswego Brewing Company, Riverlands Brewing… I’m going to need an uber and just a constant source of fresh bags of tacos. BUT IT CAN BE DONE. I believe in me. 

If you were a style of beer, what would you be and why?

I have a lot of favorites, but my personal favorite style wouldn’t be “me enough” to use as an answer here, so I’ll share that style, but then pick a different one just to piss people off. 

My favorite style of beer is the Black IPA. Ruthlessly dark and malty, but piney pineballed hoppy, ARGH that’s my JAM. I know it isn’t the most accessible style, but damn do I love me a BIPA. My friend Steve Erd from The House Pub in St. Charles, Illinois introduced me to them a decade or more ago and I’ve been a jerk for them ever since. 

But if I, Joel Frieders, were going to be a style of beer, righ meow, it would have to be a hazy IPA just to piss off all the purists out there that think that trends aren’t fun to ride when they don’t really have any impact on your quality of life. I love sweet meets hop, and I love that the thicky mcthick thicks are either embraced and adored or they’re hated on so hard. I figure I’m that same kinda dude. You either love me or you don’t, but if you don’t it’s just because you’re trying to be cool and not like me. 

Or wait, I could be a low abv seltzer but only be flavors of everyday items that don’t sound appetizing! Like, band-aid flavor, or duct tape flavor, or sidewalk chalk flavor, or I forgot to turn on the air conditioner and now my house smells like moist despair flavor. 

That sounds grody now that I’ve said it, but whatever. Beer is a liquid. Love some, hate some, who cares. Drink what makes you happy. 

What are three songs that are on repeat right now, or throughout quarantine?

Oh man, here we go. 

1. There’s this band, Khruangbin, and they make these incredibly retro lounge type funk thwappers and I’ve been addicted for years. Their latest release includes a song called “Pelota” and it’s all I’ve been vibing on when I’m two tree Beach Beers in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UULIfPLMuDw

2. Gang of Youths is this band from New Zealand and they’ve got me by the short and curlies. I’ve seen them twice in Chicago so far, and I guarantee they won’t be back in any small clubs any time soon because these guys are set to blow once the world opens back up. The song “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” has the most important chorus I’ve ever heard. So much so, I have three lines from it tattooed on my chest backwards so I see those words every time I look in the mirror and only I can read it. Peep this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quv_XFtVJ3A

3. This band, Waterstrider, has always had these rhythms that make me wanna pick up my guitar, and they released something right at the beginning of the pandemic that I’ve been obsessed with. Check this track, “Liquid”. It’s pulsating and hypnotic and something I can close my eyes and riff on. I love the androgynous voice and the pure beauty in this track so frickin’ hard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTzK_2UBR9Q

What is your favorite Coney Island Brewery beer?

This is tough because I went head to head between the Beach and the Merman last week when it was like 155F in the suburbs of Chicago. So while my friend Marty might disagree with me (he was the other one in the pool helping me with this social experiment), I have to go with the Beach Kolsch. There’s nothing more intimidating than an easy to drink beer that’s like 77% alcohol. I love that this one’s like 4.7%ish and I can crush tree four in the pool but then also be able to function and cook dinner for the kids after I walk home. I think the CIBBB is my personal favorite and I want it to adopt me. Wait. Did it ask about me?

What are some mental health support resources?

Hope For The Day has spent years trying to develop a way of delivering people information about mental health resources specific to their geographical location, financial capacity, and specific counseling needs. Over just the last 8 months we’ve done exactly that, as we rolled out the Hope For The Day Resource Compass, in partnership with Aunt Bertha. The Resource Compass allows people the chance to search by their zip code for local, vetted resources that are specific to their needs. Through using the filtering function on this site, you can find accessible, vetted assistance for yourself or someone else WAY easier than googling something super general, like “therapist near me” or “free mental health”. 

That’s located at https://www.hftd.org/find-help.

The more general resource cards we distribute include the nationally vetted resources and crisis lines, which are amazing to lean on when things are scary, but finding a local counselor or therapist before or after that moment of crisis will give each of us a better chance of not needing a crisis line in the future.

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