Pulling the Community Up From Under the Weight of Mental Health Issues

Step out for an evening of dining and awareness in support of the mental health community and Community Connection this Thursday at the Bittersweet Bistro.

Angela had secure housing and a steady job working 30+ hours as a manager at a local mental health agency, until one day her world began to crumble around her and she lost everything.

As an individual who struggles with a mental health disability, she walks a fine balance. In difficult times she has turned to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping.  Her last bout of mental health challenges, ultimately left her hospitalized and then homeless, trying to make ends meet living out of her car and hotel rooms.

Angela was fortunate to be placed in one of the few community mental health residential facilities in Santa Cruz County and from here was ready to begin her road to recovery.

“I was ready to regain normalcy in my life, but did not know how to begin planning for my future. Fortunately, I found support from programs such as Santa Cruz Community Counseling, the County MOST team and finally Community Connection”, she states.

Community Connection, a mental health program of the Volunteer Center that serves adults and families in Santa Cruz County, was just the resource Angie needed.  Community Connection offers a cadre of services designed to assist and support adults with psychiatric disabilities and their families in achieving greater independence and an improved quality of community life.

Angie was offered the opportunity to participate in the Avenues Program, which provides employment support and assistance to individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders. The Avenues program, developed in part through funding from the Mental Health Service Act (MHSA) focuses on “work first” as the primary tool for recovery. The program is part of a collaborative effort between county mental health and 2 additional community based non-profit mental health service providers (Santa Cruz Community Counseling and the Community Restoration Project) to supply a comprehensive blend of wellness services.

  Staff worked with Angie to tailor a program that met her personal goals and needs for recovery and finding a job.  Angie attended job preparedness classes, she was connected with volunteer opportunities, set time aside each day for individual job search, and was asked to attend dual disorder education classes as well as a 12-step recovery program.

She now has over 3 months of sobriety, a weekly stipend-paid volunteer position and is set to graduate the program in the next few weeks. She has received two peer elected awards; one for leadership and one for recovery.

Angie exemplifies how, with focused resources and ongoing support, clients can be motivated to achieve success, one step at a time.

Angie's story is representative of millions of Americans in the US who are dealing with mental health issues. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability amongst individuals ages 18-44 and it is estimated that one in 17 individuals suffer from serious mental illness.

Unfortunately, less than 1/3 of individuals with a diagnosable disorder receive services in any given year.  Community Connection has been hard at work for more than 30 years in an effort to stem the tide of isolation felt by mental health clients.

Community Connection's ultimate goal is to increase the number of individuals served and help them connect with natural supports, employment, and services in the community.

"We hope to provide opportunities that will help people tap into their full potential and maintain recovery”, states Connie Tanner Community Connection Co-director.

“Each person that walks through our doors has a gift. Our job is to support them in discovering those gifts. Our programs offer tools and guidance in maintaining mental health wellness, sobriety and healthy lifestyle choices while connecting with the community”, states Tanner.

Community Connection was initially developed as an avenue for developing pro-social volunteer activities for mental health clients. The program was conceived by a concerned mother who approached the volunteer center, looking for a way for her mentally disabled son to connect with others in the community. Community Connection has now grown into a collective of 13 programs,  which include early intervention, college support services, employment services and family partnerships.

It program stories such as this that me proud to do the work I do. Each day I have the opportunity to share the impactful work of volunteers and staff striving to tackle vital community issues through one of our Volunteer Center programs.  

Each of us, including myself, can think of a family member or friend quietly struggling to maintain a healthy life balance under the weight of a mental health issue. I feel fortunate to know there are programs like Community Connection providing a lifeline for the disenfranchised.

Community Connection will highlight their programming and ask the community for continued support as they host “Menu for Success” at the Bittersweet Bistro in Aptos this Thursday March 29th from 3-9PM. 33% of the proceeds from each meal with directly benefit Community Connection. The bar opens at 3PM and dinner will be served between 5:30-9PM

If you to have been touched by mental illness, please consider stepping out for an evening of dining, awareness, and raffle prizes in support of the mental health community.

For more information about the event or community Connection in general please contact Connie Tanner at 831-425-8132 or visit www.ccsantacruz.org.


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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