Community Opens its Arms to the Visalia Wellness Center

Donna Ortiz from the Visalia Chamber of Commerce cuts the ribbon

Community leaders, Tulare County management and press gathered on a sunny morning for the long-awaited Open House and ribbon cutting at Visalia’s new state-of-the-art Wellness Center Wednesday, August 21. The soft opening preceded a Grand Opening Friday, August 23, and a week of activities and welcoming for people finishing their recovery.

“This hasn’t been the easiest of roads. Our phenomenal staff has stepped up,” said Tulare County Supervisor Kuyler Crocker.

In February of 2017 about 50 residents attended two community listening sessions, most of whom were against the facility.  Concerned residents thought the county was opening up a rehab center for drug addicts or the mentally ill.

In fact the facility is drug and alcohol free and will serve individuals who are near the end of their recovery, and the new facility is outpatient only. To enter the facility it is required that you are 18 years old or older and stable with regard to your wellness journey.

Assistant Director of the center, Artemisa Gonzalez, echoed statements by Crocker.

“The biggest obstacle is the stigma against mental health issues. Once members are stabilized they can be socially accepted and relearn life skills. We will be partnering with Employment Connection to help our members get housing, employment and self-reliance. It’s a total turnaround. Everyone that comes through our door will be helped either here or at partner organizations.”

The goal of these centers is to facilitate a smooth transition from intensive mental health treatment to rejoining the community as a stable, self-reliant individual. This can be achieved once “we break up the stigma associated with mental health issues,” added Crocker. “It should be looked at as a disease like any other.”

The 5,600 square-foot multi-use facility, located at 1223 S. Lovers Lane, was purchased by the county in 2016. Tulare County held several community forums to share the architect’s drawings of changes to the former Tulare Kings Builders Exchange building. The exterior improvements include adding a garden area, a gazebo, landscaping, lighting and fencing.

During a tour of the grounds, Activities Coordinator for the Wellness Center, Luz Bedolla, highlighted a roomy garden area, an innovative kitchen design featuring a rotating recipe board and mirror, and a library where members can study and relax. Bedolla also remarked that there is a bus stop right over the back fence on Lover’s Lane for easy access.

The new wellness center is a sister site to the Porterville Wellness Center as well as a location in Fresno.

As members continue in their journey of recovery, many want and need the skills and relationships these centers provide. They can learn computer skills, gardening, nutrition education, cooking instruction, how to create resumes and behave in the context of an interview and much more. Most important, members will have a place to bond with others with similar experiences. Mental Health Director Donna Ortiz emphasized “socialization in a safe environment.”

Activities will include arts and crafts programs, dance, karaoke, movies, bingo, jewelry making and games. On a more serious note, support groups including Anxiety and Depression Management, Stress Reduction and Techniques, Family Support Groups, Your Center Your Voice, L.G.B.T.Q. and Alliance will hold sessions daily.

The contract for operational services was awarded to Kings View Behavioral Health Systems, which leads the field in the Valley with mental health facilities in Fresno, Kings, Shasta and Tulare counties.

Kings View CEO since 2018, Amanda Nugent Divine, LMFT said that it is not useful to judge mental health in terms of black and white:

“Everyone is on a mental health spectrum and it is possible to move along the spectrum. It’s not about weakness. We believe that people can and will get better. As my staff well knows, relationships and connections are the cornerstones of mental health and our success.”

“We need to stop blaming the person and keeping them from succeeding,” added Kings View associate Jennifer Montgomery . “Sometimes we are the first people to ask ‘How are you feeling?'”

Kings View was founded in 1951 in Reedley by the Mennonite Central Committee. Over the decades they expanded their services to include drug and alcohol abuse prevention and restoration, facilities providing work environments for disabled adults and Tele-psychiatry programs.

Kings View Executive Director of Behavioral Health Colleen Overholt, LMFT, fleshed out more technical details:

“This is an opportunity to change lives. At its core, our philosophy is rooted in the Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). This model is evidence-based and self-designed.”

WRAP was designed in 1997 and has been used around the world to address physical and mental issues. This includes PTSD sustained by combat soldiers, added Overholt.

The facility will continue to be funded by the Mental Health Services Act passed in 2004 as Prop 63. This Act imposes a 1% tax on personal incomes over $1 million and has generated over $15 billion since then.

For more information about Tulare County’s Wellness Centers, please visit the Facebook for the Porterville Wellness Center on 333 W. Henderson Avenue in Porterville at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Porterville-Wellness-Center/2072855349619351.

8 thoughts on “Community Opens its Arms to the Visalia Wellness Center

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  1. I hope I will be pleasantly surprised, but I’m afraid this center will draw the unsavory type of clientele that most government-run, social welfare programs do. As a resident that lives close by and have children that walk in this neighborhood, I’m angered our Board of Supervisor representative, Mr. Crocker, did little to nothing to find a better-suited site for this center. The “community”, the title of this article references, surely does not include those of us who will live with the environment this center will create.

    • It cause those kind of people that they have on security and pluse you have tattoo shop across the street

  2. The board of supervisors, bar none, is the most incompetent, ill equipped, uncaring and overpaid bunch of nothings that could be conceived of.

    They have absolutely no interest in the needs of Tulare county residents! They have failed and will continue to fail us! Take their county issued credit cards away and see how they react!

    And to think that they have the nerve to look down their noses at us when we speak to them!

    They sicken me!

  3. I am more worried about people who behave like M.Kay that may or may not have a undiagnosed mental illness that causes one to have no empathy towards others. The people this place is designed to help are already through the parts of recovery which might make them seem ” unsavory.” Some people are going to make everything negative no matter what.

  4. You guys need tell the visitors to keep them selves in the building not go to our driveway and front yards to smoke we don’t want to see this happening

    • The security guards do there jobs very well an respectful lets all members know of a better area to smoke at.

  5. I am a member of the wellness center, i am also a veteran of the united states Army. I am grateful for the women an men who work to make this possible. I do not leaving my safe place which is my house, but this wellness center has great classes an wonderful, nice member’s aswell as the workers an volunteers. Yes there are rules to follow like no smoking on the facility or near the homes. There are many other places the security guards will happily show the members the best place to smoke. As a member i also feel obligated to help tell and or remind other members to be considerate of the homes. Still, an again i am a veteran with PTSD, a mental illness. The truth is being a bully makes you the true mentally ill person. These people come in to have a good time, not be bothered with any ones home. Shame on all of you that put down these people the have the feeedom to walk on any street no mental illness can stop them for doing so. Stop being bullies. I fought for there freedom to do, if you dont like it…move.

  6. I am very thankful that Tulare County is using funding to help those in need who have suffered from mental illness. The alternative would be to have people who suffer not get the help and resources they need to become an integral part of society. With that said, I also believe location is very important as well. Hopefully the Visalia Wellness Center will help those in the community that is close to their location. Not all programs are for everyone and people need to have options and the ability to find the programs that are right for them. The VWC is for people to have a place to go during the day with activities for them to have to support their needs. I am opening a place Downtown Visalia on Oak Ave to also help those who have suffered from mental illness. We will focus on helping as well but we will also go after the topic that was address in many of the previous comments but not written. We are going to address the STIGMA that is attached to mental illness. Statistic show that 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illness. That is almost someone from every household. People should find out the real truth about mental illness instead of automatically thinking the participants are dangerous and have no place in the community, when the real truth is that we are already in the community and probably live in your neighborhood. Let’s come together as a community to find solutions instead of complaining about those who are trying to help. If you have an idea or solution, please help. Our Grand Opening is October 25th, 206 E. Oak Ave.

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