‘Laughing But Serious’ event raises money to help first responders manage effects of stress

Speakers shared stories of adversity, while comedians delivered laughs to lighten the mood at an event sponsored by Authentic Revival Movement.

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Melissa Salinas shares a story from her childhood with the crowd at Joe’s on Weed Street during a fundraising event for her company, Authentic Revival Movement. The Laughing but Serious event brought comics together to raise funds to help first responders learn techniques to help respond to the stress of their jobs.

Emmanuel Camarillo/Sun-Times

Melissa Salinas was 13 years old when she lost a friend to gun violence in Little Village in 2001.

After the shooting, her family connected her with therapists who helped her process her trauma, she said. That experience inspired her to become a licensed clinical psychologist and help others work through their own trauma.

Salinas shared her story on stage Sunday at an event at Joe’s on Weed Street in River North. The event combined tragedy with comedy to raise money to provide police officers, firefighters and other first responders free training on how to cope with stress and trauma in their jobs.

Salinas’ company, Authentic Revival Movement, provides the training, which she said combines psychology with yoga to “re-train the body’s stress response so we can calm the body and tap into the emotions.”

“First responders are going into stress consistently, so every time they are forced into a stress response, they are going to go into fight or flight, so using these techniques will allow him to calm down and think about the choices and think about how he can respond to the situation in a different manner,” she added.

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Stand-up comedian Saku Yanagawa performs a set for a fundraiser at Joe’s on Weed Street.

Emmanuel Camarillo/Sun-Times

Proceeds from the Laughing but Serious event were still being counted, but at least 150 people bought tickets, Salinas said, raising enough money for a minimum of three free sessions. Up to around three dozen people can attend each session, Salinas said.

“What we do is we use breath-work techniques, meditation or mindfulness and movement as a way to re-train and calm our bodies so we don’t have to stress out because there are detrimental impacts if we stress out,” Salinas said.

Other speakers shared their own stories of adversity, while comedians delivered laughs to lighten the mood.

Stand-up comedian Saku Yanagawa joked about feeling like a fish-out of water when he first came to the United States. He was born in Japan and arrived in Chicago when he was a teenager, Yanagawa said, experiencing plenty of culture shock.

Yanagawa said one memorable moment was when he attended a Cubs game at Wrigley Field for the first time. The announcer asked everyone to stand and clap for a World War II veteran, creating a conflict in the young Yanagawa, whose home country fought against the U.S. in that war.

“I didn’t want to be disrespectful so I just stood and clapped twice. One for each bomb,” Yanagawa said, alluding to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and drawing laughs from the crowd.

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Authentic Revival Movement co-owners Rachel Epps, Melissa Salinas and Alicia Viera. The organization combines yoga and psychology to reduce the effects of stress on first responders.

Emmanuel Camarillo/Sun-Times

Alicia Viera, clinical psychologist and co-owner of Authentic Revival Movement, said the event is important because it helps them reach many first responders and their families.

Last year, the organization held a similar event to raise money to provide free services for teachers, said Rachel Epps, the third co-owner.

“I love everything that we’re doing because it’s so helpful to the people who are near and dear to our heart,” she said.

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