NAMI Fox Valley awarded $441,000 grant to launch Peer Run Respite Center

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” -  Eleanor Roosevelt

By Karen Iverson Riggers, Program & Development Director

karen_schillerNAMI Fox Valley is thrilled to have been selected as one of three sites in Wisconsin to receive state funding to develop and open a Peer Run Respite Center for mental health consumers. As part of his package of mental health initiatives, Gov. Scott Walker approved more than $2 million in state funds to create the centers, a first-of-its-kind program in the state.

When we received our grant award letter last week, we were overjoyed. NAMI Fox Valley will receive $441,666 to develop and open a center, which will offer short-stay respite in a homelike environment for people with mental illness. A lot of hard work, planning and dreaming had brought us to that day.

Flash back seven years ago when my family and I began our journey with our NAMI Fox Valley family. One of the first people I had the honor and privilege meeting at the agency was Paula Verrett (now our full-time Recovery Specialist). Paula is one of my recovery role models and one of the first people who showed me that living well with mental illness IS possible – not just surviving, but thriving. Both of us are big dreamers and I remember a conversation we had while sitting at the conference table at our old Sixth Street office as we dreamed out loud about what treatment could look like in our community.

Paula had already started a draft (complete with floor plans) of what this would look like – space for informal and formal support, a tranquility room with a fountain, an art room, wellness space, maybe massages, and on and on. This “seed” of a dream seemed like a pipe dream at that time – something that we probably wouldn’t see in our lifetime in our community or state. In both of our journeys through the mental health system, we had experienced challenges and triumphs, and we held hope for a better future. We believed firmly that our broken and fragmented mental health system had both a practical and moral imperative to design and deliver evidence-based integrated and holistic services to those in need.   So we dreamed up a place that would foster wellness, healing, support and hope. And instead of a staff of uniformed nurses in a cold, institutional setting, we imagined a warm, homelike environment with a staff of people like ourselves – people living well in recovery from mental illness who were trained, and eager, to make the journey easier for others.

Fast forward to 2013.  The Wisconsin Legislature began a thoughtful approach of how to improve mental health services in the state. Paula testified at one of the hearings and I provided written input.  Peer Run Respite Centers, which have been successful in several other states, entered the conversation as lawmakers committed to invest $29 million in mental health.  The state formed a Peer Run Respite Advisory Committee, which we were invited to join. The committee researched and made recommendations on the program framework and best-practice elements.  Then in April, the state announced “requests for proposals,” with more than $2 million earmarked to start three regional Peer Run Respites in Wisconsin.

Elsewhere in the country, Peer Run Respites have delivered impressive outcomes in reducing hospitalizations and crisis and improving the quality of life for guests who utilize the services. Our “house” will be staffed completely by peers, many of whom will be Certified Peer Specialists by the state of Wisconsin. These peer companions will offer support, guidance, resources and HOPE to guests at the respite center. Peer Run Respite serves as a supportive alternative to hospitalization for people experiencing a time when they need more intensive support. The goals of Peer Run Respite are:

  1. Promote self-directed recovery through recovery-oriented peer support.
  2. Provide a safe, stable and supportive environment open 24 hours/day 7 days/week.
  3. Provide resources and linkages to the community.
  4. Improve outcomes and quality of life for peers utilizing Peer Run Respite.

In addition to NAMI Fox Valley, the other two recipients are Grassroots Empowerment Project, who will be starting a respite in western Wisconsin, and SOAR Case Management Services, who will be starting a respite in the Madison area. We are excited to work with the state of Wisconsin to develop this new resource in our state! (By the way, the program coordinator is Faith Boersma, Consumer Affairs Coordinator with the state’s Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, who used to be a very active NAMI Fox Valley volunteer!)

We would like to express our sincere appreciation to many of our community partners who enthusiastically supported our application – we received 28 letters of support! We are looking forward to working with our community partners and our NAMI Fox Valley participants and friends to bring this dream to reality! We plan to open the center in 2015.

I feel so privileged and honored to be able to help make this a reality for the many in our community and northeast Wisconsin who will benefit from this resource. If you’re interested in getting involved with Peer Run Respite in our community, please contact us! We will be forming a Peer Run Respite Advisory Board, looking for volunteers and resources and more.

This truly is a dream come true for Paula and me. This will be the place both of us wished we could have had when we were in some of our darkest hours. A place of hope, healing, compassion, caring and empowerment that supports individuals in their recovery in a respectful and real way – a place that will soon be reality!