Len Hauersperger has spent 30 years building and remodeling homes.
He also has taught classes, most recently economics, at Harrison College and Ivy Tech Community College in the evenings.
Plus, he is president of the Seymour Museum Center board and has helped secure grants to assist with the restoration of that building to open a city museum, and he is a member of the Seymour Evening Lions Club.
Now, he has found another way to be part of the community and help people, as he is the new executive director of Mental Health America of Jackson County.
The nonprofit organization’s goal is to increase the understanding of mental illness and assist those with mental illness receive resources within the community.
“I’ve always wanted to help the community, so hopefully, I’m going to do the best job I can with it, and I want to help her, too,” Hauersperger said, referring to Melanie O’Neal.
Since January 2018, O’Neal has been executive director of the agency and also started as planning coordinator and is now executive director of The Arc of Jackson County. The latter organization is committed to all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities realizing their goals of living, learning, working and fully participating in the community.
In the beginning, she worked 10 hours a week for each agency. A few months in, that was bumped up to 17 hours per week per agency. A few months later, it went up to 20.
Within the past year, O’Neal said she started wondering how much longer she could keep leading both organizations with the number of clients served continuing to increase — a great problem to have.
Mental Health America received COVID-19 relief funding through United Way in August 2021 that allowed for the hiring of Donna Persinger as program facilitator. She started off at 25 hours per week, but once that funding period ended, the local Mental Health America and Arc boards agreed to divide those 25 hours, so like O’Neal, she was working for both agencies.
“Being a director is just a huge responsibility, and so probably within the past six to nine months is when I started saying things to the board, ‘I know you’re in the boat with me, but I need you to help me row. We’re going upstream. I need more hands on. I need more committed leadership,’” O’Neal said.
“While we have a great board, we do a lot,” she said. “We have a lot of different programs. We’re doing a lot of referrals. We are doing a lot of education in our community.”
One weekend, she talked to her husband about her responsibilities and said the organizations had grown to a point where she didn’t feel like one director could do it any longer.
“My parents taught me to do things right or don’t do it, and first and foremost, it’s not fair that the two agencies plateau,” she said. “There’s still so much more work that needs to be done for the two separate agencies, and I know that one director can’t keep up with status quo, let alone growth, and our community deserves it. Secondly, I just decided it’s not fair to me to try to keep up with it all. It is a lot to do.”
Her husband told her to do what she needed to do, so she met with her board president and said it was time to hire a new director for Mental Health America.
“My passion, of course, is The Arc. My stepdaughter has DiGeorge syndrome. She’s special needs. That special needs community, that’s where my true passion is. That’s the only reason I chose The Arc,” O’Neal said.
“I’ve learned so much about mental health,” she said. “I still have a lot of dreams for Mental Health America of things that I would love to see happen here in Jackson County, but it’s time for one person just to focus on that agency without the back and forth between the two. I told both boards I do feel like there has been somewhat of a loss of productivity and efficiency because I’m constantly switching.”
The Mental Health America of Jackson County board then posted it was seeking an executive director. A board member told Hauersperger about it.
“To be honest, when it was first brought up to me, I didn’t think it was something I was interested in pursuing,” he said.
With his own business winding down some, though, he talked to the Mental Health America board president and secretary to learn more about the job and decided to apply.
“No. 1, I enjoy serving the community,” Hauersperger said of why he applied.
He also had experience with leading a nonprofit board and grant writing and knew he could “hit the ground running” with training alongside O’Neal and working together on grants and programming.
“So it’s a win-win,” Hauersperger said. “We can help each other. She obviously wants to grow as she has been, and I want to see both agencies grow.”
O’Neal said Hauersperger has his own network of people he knows to reach out to about grants and support.
“He’s established here, he’s rooted here, he has relationships here and I think that’s vital for any nonprofit director coming in is you already have your network, and so you’ll have the opportunity to reach new people for volunteerism, for memberships, for grants,” she said. “It just opens a door up because he is from here and he is rooted here.”
Mental Health America’s programming includes I’m Thumbody Special, Hope Squad, National Alliance on Mental Illness Indiana crisis intervention training, ALIVE suicide prevention awareness coalition, Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September and social events for clients.
O’Neal said I’m Thumbody Special, which is for preschool-age kids, has gone from 80 to 600 children served, and that’s now Persinger’s main focus. Also, Hope Squad is established at Seymour High School and will be expanding to grades 5 to 8 this fall, thanks to grant money. And throughout the year, the NAMI and ALIVE committees meet, and socials are held.
Mental Health America also has a work-based learning student, Delaney Delgadillo, working on updating the Jackson County organization’s website, including making it available in Spanish. A popular feature on that site is a link to Mental Health America’s free confidential mental health screenings.
The Arc also offers referrals and socials for clients, and it has an I’m Thumbody Special spinoff, Achieving Right Choices, that offers a fun, interactive program for special needs classrooms that focuses on feelings, emotions and conflict resolution. The organization’s website also has been developed to provide more resources for families.
“I’m excited to be passing the baton off,” O’Neal said. “I do have a new energy, a new excitement for The Arc because I know I’ll be able to solely dedicate my time and attention on our programs and who we serve there. But I’m also excited to see what’s continued or what’s changed in the future on the Mental Health America side.”
Hauersperger is excited about his new role, too.
“There are so many opportunities, so many different things we could get into,” he said. “I’m excited about it. … I want to help the community, help the people.”
At a glance
Mental Health America of Jackson County and The Arc of Jackson County are at 320 Dupont Drive, Suite A, Seymour.
For information about Mental Health America of Jackson County, call 812-522-3480, visit mentalhealthamericajc.net, find the organization on Facebook or email [email protected] The new executive director is Len Hauersperger.
For information about The Arc of Jackson County, call 812-271-2200, visit arcjacksoncounty.org, find the organization on Facebook or email [email protected] The executive director is Melanie O’Neal.