Rising demand for counseling, senior services in West County
Written by Marc Albert and Greta Mart
Former bank branch in Guerneville now hub for community services photo credit: Googlemaps
'Doing-more-with-less' is a saying that's practically cliché. At the same time, for many, it's reality.
And the agencies and other entities tasked lending a hand, they're often in a similar boat. Not enough funding, or not the right kind.
With its $6 million dollar budget and 70 full and part time employees, that's actually a challenge facing West County Community Services, a nonprofit largely funded by the county.
"I think we're getting better at it, but we still have to be adjusting to the demographic changes too."
That's Tim Miller, executive director of the group, he says the county's median age is jumping, even as it loses residents. At the same time, more Spanish-only speakers are arriving. That means more elders possibly needing a hand, and the critical and growing importance of bilingual staffers.
Miller says the biggest current need is mental health and counseling, and a lack of practitioners.
"There's a vast shortage of licensed mental health professionals, it takes a long time to become a licensed mental health professional, and if you look at the pipeline, it's not going to be filling up."
Noting the gap, the organization looked at its assets and found something of a solution, Miller explains, "Of our 70 employees, 31 are peer mental health workers. Peer mental health--it's people who have been successful in their own recovery process, who, for us go through an 80-hour training and then are employed to help others experiencing their similar or 'peer' situation."
While two work-weeks worth of instruction hardly imparts the knowledge and skill set of a degreed psychologist or psychiatrist, Miller says peer counseling has benefits, plus, it's pretty much all that available resources can provide.
"We're really trying to see, in an era of limited resources how we can most effectively use the community at large to help prevent need from occurring, but also solving the need as best we can."
That was Tim Miller, head of West County Community Services.
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