When Brittany Holt received a phone call in early April saying she’d won the Young Adult Leadership Voice Award, she had four words to offer: “Is this a joke?”

No, the woman on the other end of the line assured her. It’s not a joke. You’ve won the award from SAMHSA for your outstanding work with young adults in mental health recovery.

Brittany wrote the key information on a piece of paper. Voice Award. Hollywood. August 22.

The Voice Awards program

After hanging up, she still wasn’t convinced the call was for real. After all, April Fools’ Day had just happened.

But it was truly true.

On August 22, she got to walk the red carpet at Paramount Studios. Photographers snapped her picture while she tried out poses she’d learned during a brief modeling stint in high school. Wearing a seven-dollar dress from TJ Maxx and sky-high heels, she looked like a million bucks. She felt like a million bucks too—what could be better than helping other people and getting an award and an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood in thanks?

Brittany nails a model pose on the red carpet

During the award ceremony, Brittany and her fellow winners sat in the front row of the Paramount Studios theater. A self-confessed procrastinator, she scribbled her acceptance speech as the ceremony unfolded. She practiced deep breathing and waited for her name to be called. When she went on stage, she ad libbed, “Growing up, I wanted to be Mariah Carey. My parents told me I was tone deaf, but I still made it to Hollywood!”

Receiving the Young Adult Leadership Voice Award

The audience laughed warmly. They were rooting for her, a recovery leader and advocate at the tender age of 25. Her own struggles with depression, eating disorders, and self-identity gave her unique empathy and knowledge, which she in turn shared through her work with the Mental Health Association in Greensboro and Youth M.O.V.E NC.

Brittany’s profile in the Voice Awards program

After a three-day stay at the swank Loews Hollywood Hotel, Brittany and her boyfriend Brandon flew back to Greensboro. She had a pocket full of business cards and an invitation to collaborate with several mental health agencies in Hollywood. She felt both happy and wistful. “Everyone told me I belonged in Hollywood,” she recalled. “It was a little hard going back to normal life.”

For Brittany, normal life means being a full-time, first-year student at NC A&T and UNCG’s Joint Master of Social Work program. She missed the second week of graduate school because of her Hollywood trip, and she’s still crunching the books to make up for lost time. She’s also working part-time at the Mental Health Association in Greensboro, teaching a class on recovery, leading two support groups, and working as a peer support specialist.

Brittany with her fellow peer support specialists at the Mental Health Association in Greensboro. Clockwise from bottom left: Myla Erwin, Thomas Norbutt, and Rhonda Outlaw.

In other words, after receiving an award for her good work, she is back to doing good work. We are proud beyond measure to have her on our team.