NIATx walk-through exercise an "eye-opener" for Green Bay recovery organization

Submitted by: 09/09/2016 by Maureen Fitzgerald

Recovery from mental illness is not only possible—it’s real!
The Gathering Place promotes recovery in all that we do

Amy Payne, Outreach Coordinator and Certified Peer Specialist
The Gathering Place, Inc. Recovery Center  
Green Bay, Wisconsin

The Gathering Place is a non-profit Recovery Center for adults with mental illness and co-occurring disorders located in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Gathering Place is one of nine Peer Run Organizations in the state. The Gathering Place is managed and operated by individuals with lived experience of mental illness—therefore, the term “peer.” For this reason, The Gathering Place offers a unique mental health service in the community.

The Gathering Place is funded through the State Mental Health Block Grant. Other funding includes an endowment fund at The Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, grants, and donations. There is no fee to participate in our programs. All one has to do to become a member is walk through our doors with the goal of recovery.

For some, coming to the Gathering Place for the first time can be a big step. Our house is a safe and trauma-free environment where all are treated with dignity and respect. It’s a perfect place for people with mental illness to feel accepted and understood.

How we started

We began as a drop-in center in 1996 with a grant from NAMI Wisconsin. Our philosophy is: “Who better to promote recovery than someone who has experienced a similar journey? A peer!” Our members gain friendship, understanding, hope and strength by sharing similar life experiences.

The Gathering Place started out very grassroots, renting space on the first floor of an apartment.  We formed an all-volunteer board of directors and management team and created recovery-oriented programs.

Amazing things started to happen when we opened our doors in May of 1996. People came to us seeking help, trying to understand their mental illness. Some were in desperate situations. Many were looking for hope.

As members shared their symptoms, struggles and stories, they encouraged each other to take it day-by-day, moment-by-moment. At the Gathering Place, people began to feel that recovery was possible, and many were empowered to take ownership of their own recovery.

From one floor of an apartment to an entire house

In 2000, a capital drive campaign with the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation allowed us to purchase a larger space: a 110-year-old two-story home with a lot of character.

We offer support groups every day except for Sunday, along with many recovery-oriented programs and services. Members can sit in on a support group, attend a Green Bay Packer tailgate party, play in the Vegetable Victory Garden, or just socialize and relax. Holidays can be difficult for our members who have no friends or are not welcomed by family, so we celebrate every holiday. For our annual Christmas party, we purchase $5 gifts, wrap them, and place them under the tree so that everyone has a gift to open.

Peer Specialists and an Outreach Coordinator

The Gathering Place employs four certified Peer Specialists who use their training and personal recovery stories to help individuals live self-directed lives. Peer Specialists are people diagnosed with a mental illness, in recovery, who have completed 40 hours of training and passed a state exam.

In addition, we hired an Outreach Coordinator in 2014, thanks again to a grant from the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation for our Reach Out, Gather In project. Our Outreach Coordinator makes connections with local and state mental health agencies and nonprofit organizations to increase visibility and referrals to The Gathering Place. In her role she also works to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

NIATx walk-through

The Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services reports that peer support is a key factor in reducing psychiatric hospital readmissions, which is the goal of the NIATx Wisconsin Mental Health Learning Collaborative. We joined the 2016 NIATX learning collaborative to find out how we could use NIATX tools to increase the attendance and effectiveness of our peer support groups.

The walk-through exercise that we conducted for the NIATx project was a real eye-opener. By looking at the The Gathering Place through the eyes of a first-time visitor, we saw several areas in need of improvement. For example, we didn’t really see that our porch needed a fresh coat of paint until we did the walk-through.  While we are very proud of our old home, we noticed that the warn flooring took away from the welcoming atmosphere that we want to create. Thanks to donations from a group called 100 Women Who Care, our new flooring will be completely installed in October.

A volunteer staff manages the daily operations of our center, and that includes greeting visitors, answering the phone, and providing information about our programs and services. The walk-through helped us see that the volunteers needed standard training on our policies and procedures. We also identified a need match our volunteers’ skills and strengths with specific tasks.

Getting the customer perspective

We also used the NIATx principle to “Understand and involve the customer” by asking the volunteers for feedback on what we can do to improve the way we do things. They offered lots of great ideas on things such as offering tours, answering the phone, and greeting newcomers, as well as on what educational programs, classes, outings that we should consider for the future.

As a result, we now have a greeting team that’s assigned to either answer the phone or welcome people when they walk in the door. We developed a welcome folder for all new visitors.  We’ve increased the number of support groups from three to six each week.  Groups focus on things like wellness, dual diagnosis, mood disorders, and working with our strengths.

The walk-through exercise and talking to our volunteers was rewarding in another way: both activities confirmed that we are doing great things at The Gathering Place. We plan to conduct regular walk-throughs as we continue to look at ways to improve our services and increase our attendance.

  • All Stories