News From Terre Haute, Indiana


December 9, 2012

Indiana State supports Vigo mental health agency

Seniors provide consulting services to Mental Health America

TERRE HAUTE — A group of Indiana State University seniors provided consulting services to Mental Health America of Vigo County as part of a capstone class that tied together lessons from their four years of coursework in the Scott College of Business.

The insights gained from the consulting services helped lead to Mental Health America representatives recently celebrating the opening of the agency’s new building that features 30 one-bedroom apartments for individuals who have a mental illness and are homeless.

ISU and Mental Health America of Vigo County have teamed up on a number of initiatives that range from ISU students working at the agency to some of the organization’s larger projects. ISU students in the Sycamore Business Advisors capstone course in 2009 conducted a feasibility study for the agency after it opened YOUnity House, a 10-bedroom site that provides housing to individuals suffering from mental illness and who are chronically homeless. Mental Health America borrowed money to build the facility, which led to the nonprofit agency seeking a feasibility study about potential future projects.

ISU professor David Robinson “thought it would be a good project for us,” said Heather Sanning, who was part of the student consulting group before graduating in 2009 with a double major in management and business administration. “To hear they actually used it, that was really exciting to know that what we did in that class could've been just a grade, but it actually meant something, especially to those who are going to live there.”  

The students ultimately determined that the agency would need more consumers. YOUnity House was occupied to capacity, which facilitated the need to look into another — and much larger — project.

“I think it was very helpful that it reiterated some things that we knew needed to happen, but were reluctant to go down that path,” said Myra Wilkey, executive director of Mental Health America of Vigo County, “and it was an outside group saying ‘this is what you really need to do.’”

After the 2009 consulting from the ISU students, the agency began the process of creating the 30-apartment YOUnity Village, a supportive housing unit that provides support services on-site. Mental Health America also moved its offices to the building, which includes a computer lab and exercise facility for its tenants.

“It is self-sustaining, and there is no debt associated with the project,” Wilkey said. “We knew at the very beginning, we couldn’t have any debt associated with a permanent housing project.”

The agency has worked to provide housing so that people can then stabilize other areas of their lives. MHA also provides other forms of assistance to individuals with a mentally illnesse.  

“It begins to be an anchor for providing safe, supportive housing from which people can begin to stabilize themselves and potentially launch recovery,” Wayne Lindstrom, president and CEO of the national Mental Health America organization, said of supportive housing such as YOUnity Village. “It potentially becomes an anchor in an impoverished community from which the community itself can be redeveloped and offer other kinds of supportive opportunities.”

Indiana State students have worked with Mental Health America in other ways. The agency teamed with psychology professor Tom Johnson and sociology professor Tom Steiger on a campaign impacting underage drinking in Terre Haute.

Several Indiana State students have also worked at Mental Health America in work-study jobs. Lindsey Hardy, who is a nursing major from Osgood, works for the agency and does a variety of daily tasks with the organization, including helping residents in YOUnity House and YOUnity Village. The job provided Hardy, who is working on her second bachelor’s degree, the opportunity to re-enter the social work field.

“I think that getting students involved at such agencies is a crucial step in educating others regarding individuals with mental illness,” Hardy said. “There is a certain stigma attached to those with mental illnesses that needs to be challenged.”

ISU students started working at the agency last year, with students from different academic backgrounds employed by the organization, Wilkey said. Mental Health America has needed a variety of projects done, which the students have been able to accomplish. An ISU art major, for instance, helped to chronicle the Vigo County agency’s 63 year history into a booklet that area residents and stakeholders can review to get a quick understanding of how the organization has evolved.

“We couldn’t do nearly all the work we do without having the partnership that we have because it allows us to do more things,” Wilkey added. “The more people that we have focused on our mission in the community helps us to provide better services.”

Some ISU faculty members also work with the agency in other ways. David Robinson, ISU associate professor of management who advised the Sycamore Business Advisors students, is president of the agency’s board. He has worked with the agency on YOUnity Village, which included touring some sites in Chicago to learn more about similar endeavors for housing assistance.

“Housing is the key,” Robinson said. “The whole housing first philosophy is the key to success. Get people housed then they can work on improving their lives.”

The businesslike approach that was used in developing YOUnity Village has helped ensure that the agency maintains resources to provide additional services in the future.

“We know that there’s the stereotype nationally of who makes up the homeless,” Lindstrom said, “but the reality is whether you’re an individual or you’re part of a family, many of us in this country are only one paycheck away from being homeless.”

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