Our office was originally founded in Wichita in 1957 as part of a national, private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to mental health education. Over the years, we have branched out into offering not only education, but also prevention, treatment, and social services for people across the entire age spectrum who are living with mental health concerns. As of March of 2020, MHA offered over 30 programs staffed by close to 200 employees.
What do you find most valuable about Chamber membership?
Our Chamber membership has been invaluable in helping us increase our exposure to Wichita and the surrounding area. This is so crucial because the stigma that mental illness still unfairly carries tends to keep organizations like ours from being widely recognized even in communities where our services are so badly needed. The visibility that the Chamber has helped us gain through Exposure, business open houses and ribbon-cuttings, networking and mixer events, and more, has opened up new doors to funding sources as well as helping to "normalize" our services and make mental health care a more widely-accepted aspect of the broader health care conversation.
What is the best thing about operating in the Wichita area?
Despite the large size of our city and greater metro area, one of the greatest benefits of operating here is that everyone knows everyone. When we make a connection with a CEO, a business owner, a person holding elected office, or a citizen who has been affected directly or indirectly by mental health, they are not only quick to recognize the tremendous value that our mission brings to the area, but they always offer their resources as well. That might be helping us gain access to speaking opportunities, making introductions to human resources managers, or finding ways of helping to fund this cause that affects literally hundreds of thousands of Kansans each year, including their own loved ones.
Describe your company's most recent success or an important upcoming event.
While it is difficult to claim anything about the Covid-19 pandemic as a positive, there is no question that the isolation and uncertainty it has caused has brought a new awareness to mental health concerns that wasn't there before. Hundreds - if not thousands - of people in our area have slowly begun to recognize the importance of mental health care, and many who never previously sought care for their anxiety, depression, etc. have begun calling our counseling center to make appointments. We hope that this will go a long way toward our ultimate goal of removing the stigma of mental illness.
To what do you attribute your success?
In the not-for-profit sector, any success that we've had over the last six-plus decades has come from our band of dedicated employees whose blood, sweat, and tears have built their collective programs into the foundation upon which MHA rests today. Their passion for our work, and the passion of so many more volunteers, Board and committee members, and other stakeholders across the region has allowed us to continue growing and trying every day to reach those who need our help.
What is your favorite Chamber event, program, or service and why?
I'm biased, but I would have to say that the ribbon-cuttings are my favorite. We had one for our newly-remodeled and consolidated counseling center, medication management office, and pharmacy in 2019 at Harry and Webb, and the turn-out and support shown at that event was truly humbling.
What is something people may not know about you or your organization?
A lot of people are surprised to learn that with around 300 units of housing, MHA is the largest not-for-profit provider of housing for people with mental illness in the entire state. Our residential services exist on a continuum from crisis housing, to a shelter for homeless veterans, to group homes, shared housing, senior housing, and all the way to market-rate apartments. That division of our organization played a big part in our Covid response as we attempted to get the homeless population off the street to protect both themselves and the entire city from additional spread of the disease, and we believe Residential Care will continue to serve a vital role in our future growth.
What differentiates you from others who provide similar services?
One of the most important aspects of MHA that is so rare is that we are a comprehensive provider. With over 30 programs under one roof, we can surround every single person who walks into our doors with customized care. Mental health concerns do not exist in a vacuum. So as we peel back the layers of an anxiety or depressive disorder, we can treat not only the symptoms but the root cause as well, and do so through a variety of treatment options until we find what works best for you.
What has Chamber membership brought to you and your organization?
The Chamber membership has provided so many opportunities to put our staff and our mission out in front of Wichita's business community. From a funding standpoint, we rely on both household and corporate support, and the visibility offered by the Chamber has helped us dramatically increase our relationships with the companies that do business - and therefore have a vested interest - in the quality of life of our great city.
Where do you see your organization in five years?
We only see the need for mental health care in our society increasing, and I fully anticipate that our service offerings will continue to grow in order to keep up with that demand. Again, I see housing being a big part of that, although any growth in that area will be dictated by grants that might be available to fund the expansion. We also hope to see our counseling center grow, which is why we had that ribbon-cutting last year for the new, larger space.. And we are looking forward to many of our programs returning to normal that had to be placed on-hold because of the pandemic. Things like therapy groups, in-school prevention programs, and maybe even being able to have our annual fundraising Gala in October 2021 after having to be cancelled this year.
What about your organization are you most passionate?
Because MHA is so large (in not-for-profit terms) and so complex, it's really hard to choose just one thing. But I would say that, at least on a macro-level, the reason I am here is my passion for knowing just how much difference we make in the community. 20-25% of the population lives with a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. A huge number of emergency service calls, and substantial government funding in the form of social services like homeless shelters and keeping people in jail, is caused by lack of more robust mental health care treatment options. That was unequivocally proven during the pilot period of ICTOne, and is backed up by law enforcement officials across the area. Every person that we serve - even though we don't receive funding from the city or county - is less strain on the social safety net, and on the people who pay their taxes here. Those with a heart for service tend to gravitate toward the non-profit sector, and it's certainly what keeps me coming back.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how strongly would you recommend Chamber membership to a colleague? Why?
I would not hesitate to recommend Chamber membership. 10 out of 10. The main reason is my strong belief that, as a community, we are only as strong as our weakest link. In my experience, the Chamber doesn't cater to the lowest common denominator...it helps raise it.
Name your favorite business book.
One of my favorite business books is "Dare to Lead," by Brene Brown. It exemplifies many of my philosophies of leadership.
Do you use social media channels to promote your services?
MHA uses several social media apps in order to reach a broad range of community members and constituents--all of whom need to hear messages about the importance of mental health! Look for us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Are you involved in any community/civic activities?
I am currently the President of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition and serve on the Board of the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board.
Can you share something about your organization that most people don't know?
For those who have seen our bell logo, I think it is worth sharing how the bell came to be the symbol of mental health. During World War II, many future leaders of the mental health movement worked in hospitals where they saw first-hand the deplorable conditions of those living with mental illness, including literally being shackled to the walls in these facilities. After the war, in 1953, volunteers collected the metal restraints from now-defunct facilities and cast them into a large bell which bore the inscription, "Cast from the shackles that bound them, this bell shall ring out for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness." Today, every MHA office across the country - including ours - has a replica of that bell displayed for all to see.