News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 23, 2013

Hamilton Center hands out annual awards

TERRE HAUTE — Hamilton Center, a multi-county behavioral health system, celebrated another year by honoring staff, volunteers and partner organizations Tuesday night in Hulman Center.

More than 370 people attended the Hamilton Center annual meeting and awards dinner, including Mary Beth Bonaventura, a former Lake County juvenile court judge and the recently appointed head of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Bonaventura spoke to the large audience without notes about the importance of providing mental health services for kids who previously failed to qualify for existing state or federal programs. Many kids “fall through the cracks” and fail to receive help unless they are abused or find themselves in the juvenile justice system, she said.

Some families with troubled children have been advised to call the police to get their kids help, Bonaventura said. Of course, that stigmatizes the child as a delinquent, she said.

Now, however, a pilot community mental health program, introduced last year, is helping kids in about 18 of Indiana’s 92 counties, Bonaventura said. In Vigo County, Hamilton Center is the organization helping to implement the program, she said.

“You all have already been doing this service,” Bonaventura said. “Your kids are already receiving help.” Plans are taking shape to roll out the program in the rest of the state, she said.

Bonaventura, a Lake County native, was named head of DCS in January by Gov. Mike Pence. She was originally appointed as a juvenile court judge by former Gov. Evan Bayh.

Mel Burks, CEO of Hamilton Center, said this year’s awards dinner was a celebration of the collaboration between the center, DCS and other community partners.

“I’m profoundly grateful for the things this community has done for this corporation,” Burks said.

Since his becoming Hamilton Center CEO in January 2012, Burks said the agency has unveiled new initiatives, including a pilot program to help people recently released from jail or prison and another program to provide mental health “first aid.”

The evening was capped off with the 2013 Hamilton Center awards for organizations, volunteers and staff that have promoted behavioral health and advanced the mission of Hamilton Center.

The Community Service Award was presented to the Vigo County Department of Child Services. The local DCS staff has worked with several Hamilton Center departments to improve the quality of care for center customers, said Cary Sparks, a member of the all-volunteer Hamilton Center board of directors.

The Hamilton Center Volunteer Award was presented to Monica Wallace, a Clay County volunteer who oversees several holiday season assistance programs for families and kids. And the Hamilton Center Staff Award, given to a center employee in honor of work above and beyond his or her regular duties, was presented to Debbie Hills, a nurse practitioner for the organization and a member of the center’s emergency response team since 2008.

Hamilton Center has offices in Vigo, Clay, Greene, Hendricks, Marion, Morgan, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan and Vermillion counties.

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