One in four adults in the United States experiences a mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the millions of people who love, live and work with those individuals are also impacted.
It is no surprise, then, that the Josselyn Center in Northfield, a community-based behavioral health center, serves more than 1,000 people on the North Shore. What is surprising to some is how long the Josselyn Center has been serving the community. It first began providing mental health services in 1951, more than a decade before President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act into law in 1963 as part of his New Frontier.
“The Josselyn Center has always been a very forward-thinking organization,” explains Susan Resko, who has served as president of the Josselyn Center for the past year.
In its decades of operation, the Josselyn Center received funding both from private sources as well as the state of Illinois. “As mental health needs have skyrocketed, the funding has gone to naught,” says Denise Nash, director external affairs for the Josselyn Center.
A decade ago, the center received $1 million from the state. That number has gone down over time and with the state budget crisis, the funding has all but disappeared. Last year, the Josselyn Center received just $12,000 from the state.
“Right after I walked in, our funding was virtually eliminated,” says Resko. She adds, “That money won’t be coming back.”
Instead of shutting its doors, the Josselyn Center launched an effort to reinvigorate itself with new programming, new events, and new donors. The organization’s new tagline, “It’s a new day at the Josselyn Center,” encapsulates the effort to rebrand the center, and part of that effort is reminding people that the Center is still serving the community.
“A lot of people I speak with have forgotten about it, or didn’t realize it was still around. It’s gone under the radar for the past decade, and we’re spreading the word and bringing light to the mental health crisis and that there is help available,” says Mary Womsley, a Josselyn Center board member.
Resko describes the community’s response thus far as overwhelming. “People are willing to support the Josselyn because they understand that a strong community mental health center makes your community safer,” she says. “We think mental health is as important as good schools and safe roads. It should be supported by the community in the same capacity.”
The Josselyn is unique in that a variety of mental health professionals work under the same roof, offering clients a unique opportunity to receive care from providers across multiple disciplines. “We provide comprehensive services, including psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and social workers. They are all in the building, talking to each other. Client care here is coordinated. That’s really rare, and absolutely the way it should be,” explains Resko.
“People forget that one in six people on the North Shore qualify for Medicaid. When you struggle with a mental illness, you are more likely to lose your job, or you can’t go to school. It becomes a vicious cycle,” notes volunteer Jennifer Cline.
It is also unique in that it is the only location within 375 square miles with psychiatrists who are willing to work with the Medicaid population. Resko says that the area spans from Skokie to Waukegan and out to Arlington Heights. “Think about having to drive that far for any other kind of health care,” says Resko.
“We want to make it back into the vibrant part of the community with programming for all community members,” says Nash, and that includes offering services not just to adults, but also to children and their parents.
Children’s mental health needs often go unmet. NAMI reports that almost half of children ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness received no services in the prior year, and that 13 percent of those in that age group experience severe mental disorders each year.
The Josselyn Center offers Camp Neeka, a therapeutic summer camp for kids ages 8 to 12. “Neeka” means “friend” in the Illini language. “For kids who struggle with ADHD, depression, anxiety or any kind of mental health condition, less structured activities like summer camps can be a struggle. This program helps them learn to be a friend and can change their lives,” says Resko. The program also helps parents. “So many families struggle with this,” she says. “People feel isolated and alone, but they are not.”
Parents of teens are not forgotten. A confidential support group offers help to parents of challenging teens who struggle with mental illness, substance abuse or self-destructive behavior. “It’s something we know exists but people are still suffering in silence,” says Resko. “They don’t have to, and we’ve gotten great reviews about how much this group has helped people.”
Another group aims to help women experiencing midlife transitions, including divorce, loss of spouse and caring for aging parents.
Picnic in the Park at Ravinia to benefit the Josselyn Center
The arrival of fall doesn’t mean that picnic season is over. The Josselyn Center will host Picnic in the Park in the PNC Private Dining Room at Ravinia on Nov. 5. The event serves as a kickoff to a year of action and features special guest Christopher G. Kennedy, civic leader and former Merchandise Mart Chair.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of The Josselyn Center’s fall benefit,” says Kennedy. Mental illness affects one in four people, and everyone in our communities deserves the kind of quality mental health care the Josselyn Center is able to provide to people, regardless of their ability to pay.” He adds, “The budget crisis in Illinois means that social services are retrenching and resources are less available to those in need, and that is exactly why The Josselyn Center needs our support.”
Cline is also looking forward to hearing Kennedy speak at the event. “The Josselyn Center has always been about helping our neighbors,” she says. “As a neighbor and how he and his family have been such long-standing advocates for mental health, Chris Kennedy is the perfect honored guest.”
“There’s a serious focus to the event, but it’s also going to be a fun event,” adds Cline.
Individual tickets begin at $275 per person, and table packages begin at $2,000.
Make it better by getting involved
If you want to get involved, the Josselyn Center welcomes volunteers and donations. Those looking to get involved in either capacity can contact Susan Resko at [email protected].
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