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Southwest Virginia Showcases Consumer Involvement Projects

Consumers are making an impact in Southwest Virginia through their involvement in mental health  planning, service delivery and evaluation of services. Under the auspices of the Consumer & Family  Services Committee of the Southwest Virginia Behavioral Healthcare Board, approximately 50  consumers and staff participated in Camp Impact activities to evaluate current services and make  recommendations for improvements. In a fun day of exercises and hard work, participants rated  CSB services in the region very positively (127 strongly agree statements and 123 agree statements  vs. 13 disagree and 26 strongly disagree). Statements included "Staff believe that I can grow,  change and recover," "Staff see me as an equal partner in my treatment program," "I have a say in  what happens to me when I am in crisis," "I have housing that I can afford," "I am encouraged to use  consumer-run programs," "I was told what medication side effects to look for," "I received  information I needed to take charge of managing my own symptoms and early warning signs," and  other similar statements. Resulting recommendations were sorted for implementation at different  levels: individual consumers, clubhouses, CSB's, the region and the state. Topics included  educating law enforcement, seeking legislation to recognize advanced directives, increasing  transportation resources, increasing Section 8 housing availability, opening drop-in centers,  increasing family education, and paying staff high enough salaries to prevent turn-over. 

Camp Impact participants were graduates of the region's Leadership Empowerment and Advocacy  Program (LEAP) from Planning District 1, Cumberland Mountain Community Services,  Dickenson County Community Services, Highlands Community Services, Mt. Rogers  Community Services, New River Valley Community Services and Southwest Virginia  Mental Health Institute. Implementation strategies include meetings with the regional board,  community services boards, and the VACSB. Henry Smith, Mental Health Director from  Cumberland Mountain Community Services commented, "I believe we are on our way to a  meaningful engagement with consumers on a regional level that could involve much more active  participation on and through the board." 

The success of Camp Impact follows on the heels of regional consumer involvement activities over  the past 5 years, beginning with 12-week LEAP classes throughout the region. As of August 2005,  300 individuals will have graduated from LEAP, many of whom have gone on to be instructors in  subsequent classes. Judy Salyer, Coordinator of LEAP, received the Governor's Award in 2004.  Camp Impact participants have also participated in two very successful annual Mental Health  Walks, bringing media attention and hope to our success stories of recovery! And last year,  members of all six CSB's clubhouses participated in an art project at Emory & Henry College,  resulting in an exhibit in the college cafeteria that went on to gain media attention.

In the words of one of the consumer participants, James Turner, "Three and a half years ago I was  homeless. I came to Virginia and joined the clubhouse. I remember the first day and all the things  that brought me there. The memories are clear and present, they are like beads on a string,  including a few tangles and some fancy weaving along the way. . .through LEAP I have helped on  many letter writing campaigns to our legislators, the Governor, and the President. . . About 300  people attended the Walk dedicated to the late Wally Cline of Mt. Rogers with the theme of "Sowing the Seeds of Wellness. . .and during the art project at Emory & Henry College, I drew a purple iris on a green background, NAMI"s trademark. I was interviewed on TV and had a chance to talk about mental health issues and stigma busting. . .the clubhouse has helped me find a safe harbor in a storm. . .and all of these regional activities have given me a greater sense of confidence and have provided a mission that helps to further empower my recovery. . .I will be in the next Virginia Human Services Training Program with plans to open a drop-in center on the weekends when I graduate, helping to implement the recommendations of Camp Impact."

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