Befriend; Connection through Compassion with Guest Mollie Reinhart

This week the Mental Health Mamas are joined by Mollie Reinhart, founder of Befriend. Befriend connects people to meet one another, forge new relationships, and unite through compassion. Their goal is to create friendships so that every person can embrace empathy, foster understanding, and bring our world closer together. Listen in as Mollie shares about the organic beginnings of Befriend and how we can all make a difference one small act of compassion at a time.

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here. 

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health. 

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website 

Tina: Serena and I often talk about our experiences in life and how that really supersedes any of the formal education or any other jobs we've had in our past. It's how we connected with each other, and I think that sometimes when we stop in our world and just listen, we find purpose and can really do the most good. Does that make sense, Serena? 

Serena: Oh that makes total sense. So today we are joined by a fellow purpose finder in the world. Mollie Reinhart is a smart, educated woman who has had formal, equally wonderful work in our world, but that is not why she's joining us today. After she had raised her children, she decided to mix things up and really listen to the community and its needs.

Tina: Mollie's from Richmond, Virginia, and has started a very powerful, very organic movement called Befriend. Molly, welcome to the podcast. 

Mollie: Thank you so much, Tina and Serena for being curious about Befriend and welcoming me to the podcast. I?m excited to be here with you guys. 

Serena: And we are excited for you to share your story with us. So we told a little bit of your story, but tell us a little bit more and how you came to start Befriend.

Mollie: Sure, as you mentioned, I was at a point in my life when I'd raised my three children and then I decided to turn to the community to see how I could be helpful. So in January of 2017, I reached out to my dear friend, Reggie Gordon, who at the time was the head of the office Community Wealth Building for the city of Richmond. He's now the Deputy Chief Administrator for the city of Richmond. And I just wanted to start learning about our city. I wanted to learn about the challenges and what the hopes were for the city. By doing that, the poverty rate really rose to the top, but also did our city's potential to compassionately address it. So I spent the next few months really learning from many different people and being curious about how I could be helpful.

Then in December of 2017, my life was really changed forever. Through a connection that started with a letter to the mayor, then it went to Reggie's office at the office of community wealth building, which is a place where I went often to meet people and keep learning about what I can do to be helpful. I met Ciji Redd, who was from Creighton Court, one of the Richmond's public housing communities. 

Tina: Yeah, Mollie, talk a little bit. Just so our listeners have some vision of Richmond that we know we can see, right? When Richmond was built, it was built very, in a very particular way, right? And it was a pretty divided community, let's just say, right?

Mollie: That's right. When they built the Interstate 95 that cut straight through a thriving African American community and it divided one half was the African American community, which is now where the public housing communities are to the west end of Richmond, which is a safer area. And so where Ciji lives is in Creighton Court in the public housing, and you know, she hears the gunshots every night while I live only about five miles away in a safe, comfortable home. And we became friends through that experience we had together. And we quickly realized we had a lot in common. We both are mothers, we both have sons, they like sports, they get in mischief sometimes, you know, but we both love them with all our hearts and we just wanted to have a good life for them. Our friendship continued and I just became more curious and open-hearted to other people. 

Soon after I met Jojo and she was checking me out at a Walmart, not far from Ciji's home in Creighton Court, then I met Ed at Community Wealth Building while he was looking for employment and we became friends. And then many other friends followed. So about this point, it's the summer of 2019 and the Befriend name kind of naturally evolved because both sides of this relationship are really changed forever. And that's really how the organic beginning of Befriend occurred. 

Tina: I love that literally you just I love the that you said I just opened my heart. The power of connection for you personally you?ve said is really life-changing. You said it is life changing for me, right? And I wonder if you could reflect a little bit more on that so what you see in yourself and what you see in others. 

Mollie: Yeah. So for myself, the power of this human connection I had with Ciji is for me it felt limitless and it was really vital to my change. For meeting different people like Ciji, Jo Jo and Ed, it really just opened my heart to see their part of the world firsthand rather than reading about it. And for me, there was no going back. It's like once I'm changed, I cannot go back to how life was. And for me, it was about celebrating the common humanity that we shared and that deep down we are all more alike than different.

Serena: Yeah, I totally agree with that. I just love that you know, I think for anybody who has experienced that power of human connection, it's amazing. And what we know is that there is research backing this up. I think we know we know it to be true. And yet sometimes it helps to have that research. So including research that is literally called the Prescription Connection. 

Tina: Yeah I think some of this research came out of the pandemic when we had to really try harder to maintain those connections undoubtedly, our mental health and surprisingly, our physical health, which always surprises me to read that, it's better when we experience meaningful connections. We will put a link to that that study. But talk a little bit about how this movement looks practically. So Befriend is this movement. But what does that look like? What does it look like? 

Mollie: Yeah, sure. So Befriend offers lots of different opportunities for people from different backgrounds to connect through compassion for each other. So when people are showing up with this curious mind and their hearts open, this change does happen. And by making connections and listening to stories of each other, we create friendships instead of divisions so that every person embraces empathy and fosters some understanding of a new perspective and lifts each other up. So specifically, it could start at the beginning with people engaging with Befriend through our Instagram. They could just start looking at photos of what it's like and on our website to read articles perhaps on compassion.

And we also encourage people to try an act a compassion, like smiling and holding the door open for someone. I had an experienced just before I joined you all that at a 7-11 that I witnessed someone complimenting the clerk on just giving her a smile. And I was behind there and I'm like, all right, this is a Befriend moment. I told him a little bit about what we do and shared our wristbands and took a photo and we ended up making a new friend and hugging at the end. And then as I'm walking, getting ready to leave, the woman who was a bit older said, I really needed this boost today. My husband has lung cancer and is not doing very well. And so you never know kind of where those small acts of compassion can have that ripple effect. Sometimes you see it right away, but sometimes you may not. So we really think of it as a lifestyle. 

So people can start that way, just really simply Instagram website and doing acts of compassion. Sometimes when they want to kind of move a little forward, the other things we have are our events, but friend gatherings. We start at local libraries. We have them now at local parks, a coffee shop that caters to the homeless and other locations. And what we do there is gather together and we share stories. Sometimes an inspirational quote or we have a speaker on a specific topic to spark some more conversation. But we all leave with meeting someone new, learning something new, and just being lifted up.

We even have community dinners. We just had one at the Mantu, which is an Afghan restaurant in Richmond. And it was the theme of connection through food. So there are a lot of opportunities through our gatherings for people to join in. We also do walk and talks, which I find that's a really great way to get to know someone's just walking out in nature. So we'll do that in small groups of two or three. Or sometimes we'll have a larger group gathering and we'll do a bigger walk. Service projects like neighborhood cleanups are another great way to get to know people.

And all these things are with the framework of Befriend is that we set it up that, please sit with someone you don't know. Please walk along with someone you don't know and just hear their story and connect with them that way. 

Serena: I love that. And so what you're referring to sort of that, you know, starting small, maybe, like, following the Instagram page, like that, all the way up to participating in events and, you know, forming new friendships is that that you just spoke about the continuum of compassion. Is that what that's referring to?

Mollie: Exactly. And, you know, sometimes how the continuum of compassion is evolving is that we're meeting people where they are and offering different opportunities to help someone move forward on their journey of cultivating their compassion for others. And ultimately, to make the world a better place for everybody. Everyone can change the world in some way through compassion with this. So it is just like that. They might become curious at first and then just check out Instagram a little bit and just start to learn a little more. Once they feel a little more comfortable, wanting to do a walk, wanting to do a gathering, gradually, you know, moving through that process to connect directly with people, then they start to understand these different perspectives and and really see that we are more like than different. And the end game for us is really making a change to create a positive impactful change in your community. So when enough people learn about things that need to be changed in the community, then we all can move forward and go forth with that action. 

Tina: Yeah. And part of what I hear you saying, which I think is so important is it isn't about those people over there. This is about all of us. We can all have a smile. We can all have a kind word. And we never know what the person across from us is experiencing. We have no idea. And I love that. So as I said at the beginning, this movement was beautifully organic right? It happened not that you didn't work hard to do it because you did. But really, it's organic. So I'm curious. What advice would you have for someone who wants to start this in their own community?

Mollie: Oh, sure. Well, I think the message of Befriend can be replicated anywhere. And we've done some pilots to show that. And first of all, some people have already reached out. So we're having these compassion connectors is what we're kind of moving forward with. And different parts of Virginia, someone in California, Montana, Florida, Denver, and to spread the message of Befriend by sharing our Befriend wristbands and taking photos, posting on social media, and just encouraging those acts of compassion. Or if you witness an act of compassion, like I did today, to spread the good and compliment them. And, you know, we ended up being in the 7-Eleven all like having this moment together. And then, you know, the woman who was the one who gave the compliment shared that she really needed that boost today because, you know, her husband and family is going through. So that's one easy way to start. But the other is, it just takes one person in a community to start a friend and to contact me directly. So we have done a pilot of a Befriend gathering in Philadelphia. And it went really well. So we are open to doing more of that. And we are now developing materials with some specific details on how to spread that message of Befriend, including ideas for locations, and social media, Zoom opportunities, marketing materials, community partners, that sort of thing. And our Befriend zooms by the way, our open to everybody. We're having our third annual Befriend New Year's Day Zoom on January 1st at 10. And in those, we share inspirational quotes to start the New Year and everybody's welcome to that. And so that's a great way to connect in.

Serena: Oh, that's fantastic. So tell people where they can find you if they want to know more.

Mollie: Yeah, sure. I can be reached through Instagram. And that's at befriend.movement. Our website is Or directly by my email that's Mollie with an i.e. at So, you know, everyone can participate. Everybody belongs. So I encourage you to reach out to me if they're more curious. 

Serena: So Mollie, before we end the episode today, is there anything we haven't asked you that you want to make sure you put out to the world? 

Mollie: I think the inspiration behind Befriend was really, I mean, ultimately for me is trying to have a positive impact on a community. And it really brings, you know, our world through compassion for others. And it always still goes back to that human connection that is so important. So when we start there and connect with others, then what I see in people is like their armor just dissolves. And then we see the true essence of each other. And then some of the other things that go on in the world, it really doesn't matter. You know, some of those things just fall away. And then when we connect in with our hearts for each other, and then we move forward in a really positive, compassionate way.

Tina: That is awesome. Molly, thank you so very much for joining us today. We are grateful that you took the time to pause that one day and connect with Ciji that very first time. You are a kind light in the world. And I love that you're sharing light wherever you go.

Mollie: Oh, well, thank you both for having a curious mind and open heart to help others and for you both shining your bright lights. It was really a joy and honor to be with you guys today.

Serena: Oh, thanks, Mollie. And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts. Leave a review, subscribe, share our podcast with others. You can connect with us on our socials. You can also leave us a voice message. You could share a bit of your story. Tell us what you think of the podcast or just call to say hi. 

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people. 

Serena: Thanks for listening. 

Tina: Bye.