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.