Making use of the 2008 Mental Health Services Act funding, Tulare County has opened its Porterville Wellness Center. Similarly, a Visalia center is set to open later this year.
The 4,200 square foot facility on Henderson Ave. was purchased by the county and renovated for its new purpose with a $900,000 investment. Kings View Behavioral Health has been contracted by the county for operations.
Neither Porterville nor the intended Visalia Wellness Center are treatment facilities. The Porterville center does not provide mental health assessment, outpatient therapeutic treatment such as diagnosis or therapy, nor does it dispense medication.
What it does do is offer an environment of comradery, life-enhancement and rehabilitative activities.
All staff has gone through some form of dealing with mental health issues, be it personally or through a close family member, said Colleen Overholt, regional clinical services director for Tulare County.
“All Kings View staff are peer support specialists,” she said.
The center is open several hours each week – from 9am – 7pm, weekdays, and 11am – 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
“It’s exciting because it will be a benefit to the community as a whole,” Overholt said.
Those utilizing the facility are referred to as members, she said. Their identities are kept as private and confidential as they want them to be.
“There’s a lot of isolation of people with mental health issues,” Overholt said. “They may need help creating a resume or need some socialization.”
Groups are offered at the center on a routine basis, or as the need arises, including life skills and relaxation techniques. A state-of-the-art kitchen classroom affords cooking lessons and clean up tidbits. A laundry offers clothing management including wash, dry, iron and fold.
There is a library with computers for researching potential jobs, or just looking something up, along with a flat screen TV mounted to the wall, and video games.
In the art room, one can develop self-expression or simply relax. The same for the music group. A garden, under further development, will offer growing techniques for food.
While waiting for a men’s group session, Adrian said he has been going to the center for a couple of weeks. He is a patient with Tulare County Mental Health Department and was referred to the center when it opened, he said.
“It’s pretty good,” he said, “when I want to vent or something, I can.”
Peer Support Specialist Matthew McLaughlin went through a program with Porterville Mental Health. The divorced, single father of a soon-to-be 12-year-old daughter, is grateful for his new job. McLaughlin is a licensed plumber by trade, but feels he is doing more good in his new position.
“I love it here,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
As a plumber, he was his own boss. Some might find it difficult to switch to the regimen of a “9-5” job, but not McLaughlin.
It also helps that his daughter says she is so proud of what her father does, he said.
Dayane Barceras Astorga had been working at the Visalia Adult Clinic when she learned of the Porterville Wellness Clinic opening. A local resident, she jumped at the chance to apply for a position closer to home.
Barceras Astorga had dealt with her own mental health issues in high school and looking back realizes that she may not have completed school had she not found help and counseling. She is a peer support specialist who enjoys art and music the most, but likes to be active in any group she can.
“It keeps me busy, and I like to learn new things,” she said.
Barceras Astorga also attends classes at Porterville College and plans to transfer to a four-year university. She hopes to continue developing her career in mental health.
While most individuals are referred to the center, an individual can strike out on their own for help. Numbers are interviewed, so staff can learn what the numbers are seeking as well as make recommendations. Once involved in the program, one can stop by the center any time he/she wishes for any group session, or just to hang out and socialize.
Groups are offered for women, men and veterans. There are anxiety, depression and parenting groups, as well as life skills.
The goal is to have about 50 active numbers each month, Overholt said. In its first month of June, the Porterville center had more than passed the half-way point to that goal.
“We’re doing a good job at getting the word out,” she said. “We’ve been warmly welcomed by the community and I’m really grateful for that.”
Attending the center is free, with all expenses paid for through Mental Health Services Act funding. Individuals must be Tulare County residents to attend the center.
“I don’t want to turn anyone away,” Overholt said, “unless we’re not the right place for them.”
The coming Visalia Wellness Center, located on Lovers Lane, was purchased for $1.2 million and is currently undergoing planning and renovations. Similarly, they will be offering budgeting workshops, cooking classes, arts and crafts (self-expression), library and computer stations (education and employment), employment support services (resumes, job search, and more), social engagement, and peer-to-peer and family groups to promote wellness, said Tammie Weyker, Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency PIO.