Local Mental Health America agency dissolves

An organization that has been in Jackson County for more than 50 years recently announced its dissolution.

The 10-member board of Mental Health America of Jackson County recently shared this news with “great regret” in a letter to the community.

“The scope and breadth of mental health needs of our community have increased substantially since our inception,” the letter reads. “These changes along with the limited availability of part-time nonprofit employees have contributed to the board’s decision to dissolve.”

The good news is the board is searching for local organizations to house some of the agency’s current programming and committees, such as Hope Squad and the ALIVE suicide prevention awareness coalition. Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry in Seymour already has agreed to lead the local Crisis Intervention Team for the immediate future.

The board also is working through the legal and financial process of dissolving a 501(c)(3) and will be in contact with recent individual donors and grant-awarding organizations.

“While we’re disheartened the work of MHAJC will cease, we see it as a way for mental health advocacy and access to treatment to expand,” the board said in the letter.

Board members will be joining forces with other local nonprofits that are poised to make big and positive changes in access to mental health services, the board wrote.

“Ultimately, our goal is to work effectively and efficiently in support of mental wellness in our community,” the letter states.

During its existence, MHAJC’s goal was to increase the understanding of mental illness and assist those with mental illness receive resources within the community.

In January 2018, Melanie O’Neal became executive director of the organization and also took on the role of planning coordinator for The Arc of Jackson County. The latter title later was changed to executive director, and she continued to head both organizations.

She initially worked 10 hours a week for each agency, but a few months in, that doubled.

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.

MHAJC 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.

O’Neal began sharing concerns with the MHAJC board, and ultimately, she stepped down as executive director.

In the summer, Len Hauersperger was hired to take that role, but that was short-lived, and the search for an executive director was on again.

As the board stated in its letter, though, it was difficult to find someone for the position. Then the decision came to dissolve the organization, which was an agency of Jackson County United Way.