Mental health agency adds board members

Mental Health America of Jackson County has expanded its board of directors by adding three members in an effort to bring new ideas for mental health programming and resources to the community.

Becky Bujwid and Shannon Platter with Centerstone and Catherine DuBois, assistant principal at Emerson Elementary School and dyslexia coordinator for Seymour Community School Corp., recently joined the board of 14 that oversees the work of the agency.

The bylaws state the board could have at-large members for those unable to attend every meeting and agency function. Five current board members decided to become at-large, so that left some board openings.

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“Per our bylaws, we actually had the opportunity to open up the door to get some new board members,” said Melanie O’Neal, executive director of Mental Health America of Jackson County. “I was looking to recruit some fresh ideas, some fresh energy.”

The board members are the decision makers for the agency, choosing the direction of the organization’s work, setting its goals and objectives and managing the budget. Meetings are conducted once a month.

Bujwid was a natural choice, as she and O’Neal have gotten to know each other over the past year by attending mental health functions together.

“I’ve just learned so much through my interactions with Melanie,” Bujwid said. “She’s just such a goal-oriented person, and I think interacting with her has got me extra enthused.”

Being in the mental health field already, Bujwid said it’s wonderful to be able to share resources and get new ideas from O’Neal.

“It helps me do my job better,” Bujwid said.

Platter also rode along with Bujwid and O’Neal to different mental health events and wants to use her experience in and knowledge of the mental health field to do more.

“I can bring fresh ideas and information to the board, and in turn, I could learn things from the board to help Centerstone and our clients,” she said.

Mental Health America of Jackson County serves many Centerstone clients through its annual Christmas Gift Lift program.

“A lot of their clients attend our social functions also,” O’Neal said.

DuBois was approached about being on the board because of her involvement with Mental Health America of Jackson County’s new suicide prevention team.

She is a licensed school counselor and nationally certified counselor. She recently completed certification in cognitive behavioral therapy and has worked in public education since 2008.

“I wanted to be a part of the mission supporting children and young adults alongside their family and community system,” she said. “Healthy minds promote a happy community. Happy communities prosper in so many ways — reduced crime, reduced addiction, reduced abuse and neglect.”

DuBois said as a part of the board, she wants to serve the community by promoting education, awareness, compassion and vigilance.

Board President Vicki Johnson-Poynter said the new members fit well and strengthen the agency as a whole.

“Over the years, we’ve had different mental health professionals on this board, and for some reason, we’ve lost them, so it really adds a lot of value to our decision-making when we have people who are currently in the mental health field,” she said. “It really helps us, and we appreciate having them.”

All three are involved with the agency’s suicide prevention team and look to bring an awareness of mental health issues to get people to start talking about their concerns.

“We just want to get the information out there that it’s not something to be ashamed of if you’re struggling with those concerns or a loved one is,” Bujwid said.

Being on the board allows them to share the resources they are aware of with more people, including the general public, Platter said.

O’Neal said she wants all three new members to get a year under their belt so they can experience everything Mental Health America of Jackson County offers and provide input and involvement to take the agency to the next level.

“That’s what it took for me to get exposed to what each program is,” O’Neal said.

One of the programs Mental Health America of Jackson County provides in the community is I Am Thumbody Special, which reaches 125 preschool-aged children each year.

It teaches very young children they are unique just as their thumbprint is unique, O’Neal said.

“We want them to know they are important, we care about them and they are special,” she said. “It gives them some one-on-one time to talk about feelings and appropriate and inappropriate responses to their feelings.”

It’s important to reach kids at a young age to make a difference, she added.

The agency also is working to create a county crisis intervention team that will include mental health officials, law enforcement and self-advocates. The team will educate first responders on how to identify a mental health crisis situation and training on how to handle such cases.

There are currently only 27 out of 92 counties in the state that offer crisis intervention training, Johnson-Poynter said.

Mental Health America of Jackson County also provides mental health materials to all middle and high schools in Jackson County that counselors can give to students or they can pick up on their own.

“We’re seeing that a lot of kids take brochures on anxiety and depression,” Johnson-Poynter said.

There is a link at that provides access to nine free mental health screenings for the public. Those tools test for anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and substance abuse.

Poynter said there was a 25 percent increase in 2018 in the number of people taking the free assessments.

The agency plays an important role in helping people learn about and improve their mental health, O’Neal said.

“We have a lot that we want to do to provide resources to our community,” she said.

DuBois said students’ learning outcomes can increase by 13 to 15 percent when they and their families have regulated mental health and appropriate strategies and resilience to cope with stressors.

“Mental health advocacy is a win-win for youth, families and community,” she said.

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Mental Health America of Jackson County

Board of directors: Vicki Johnson-Poynter, president; Karen Metz, secretary; Carolyn Bruce, treasurer; Doris Kovener, Mary Jane Lasater, Libby Roberts, Celeste Bowman, Becky Miller, Doug Royer, Karen Robertson, Sandra Foster, Sandy Royer, Steve White, Tom Judd, Becky Bujwid, Shannon Platter and Catherine DuBois

Information: Call 812-522-3480, email [email protected] or visit