Nonprofits offer support, funding to mental health

Evergreen Foundation provided $118,000 toward an expansion project at The Balsam Center in Waynesville. Evergreen Foundation provided $118,000 toward an expansion project at The Balsam Center in Waynesville.

The mental health system in North Carolina can use all the help it can get as it struggles with cuts in state funding, an increase in the demand of services and a shortage of local rural providers.

There are a number of nonprofits and community groups that have stepped up to help, whether by offering a network of support to people who suffer from mental illness or by providing grants that enable behavioral health providers to increase access to services or start a new program. 


NAMI Appalachian South

NAMI Appalachian South, a regional chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a nonprofit supported by gifts, memberships and grants from Macon County Community Funding Pool, the Evergreen Foundation, the N.C. Community Foundation and a gift from the Neidig Family Charitable Fund.

Franklin is the home base of this organization that doesn’t have an office or any paid staff — it runs on volunteers, most of which also live with some kind of mental illness. NAMI Appalachian South offers a weekly support group for people suffering from a number of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and substance use disorder. 

“It’s a place people can come and feel safe to talk about their mental illness and how it affects them,” said one of NAMI’s leaders who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s also for family members who need support in how to handle loved ones with mental illness. We also talk about recovery for those who are further along in the process and what’s worked for us and what hasn’t worked for us.”

Volunteers with the organization also started a support group for female inmates at the detention center since so many inmates suffer from mental illness. Many times it’s the mental illness and its effects that land them in jail.

“Often times their crime was committed while they were having some kind of an episode,” the NAMI volunteer said. “People need treatment more than being incarcerated.”

More recently, the small NAMI chapter out of Franklin began sending volunteers to Western Carolina University once a month to offer a support group for students.

The local NAMI chapter, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, would like to do so much more in the region, but resources and volunteers are limited. 

Right now the group is focused on offering a 10-week peer-to-peer course starting March 1. If contacted, NAMI volunteers are also available to come give an “In Our Own Voices” presentation to local organizations, nonprofits or churches. A speaker with firsthand experience with mental illness comes to share their story with others as a way to educate the public but also as a step in their own recovery process. 

NAMI Appalachian South relies on volunteers and donations to operate. If you’re interested in donating, volunteering or scheduling a presentation for your church or civic group, contact NAMI at 828.369.7385.


The Evergreen Foundation

The Evergreen Foundation has been providing grant funding for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance use needs in the seven most western counties since it was formed in 1977.

As a private nonprofit, the foundation’s grant funds each year are based on what its investments brought in for the year. Executive Director Denise Coleman said the foundation owns 23 properties in the seven western counties and the rent from those properties goes toward the annual grant funding. 

“In the last few years, we’ve provided about $650,000 a year for the seven counties,” Coleman said. 

This available funding provides local agencies a better shot at receiving grant funding as state and federal grant funding has become more limited and therefore more competitive. 

“It’s very nice our seven counties aren’t competing with the rest of the state for these types of funds,” Coleman said. 

Each year, providers in the seven counties are invited to submit proposals to the Evergreen Foundation board to be evaluated. While the top priorities for funding lately have been centered around substance use and the opioid epidemic, Coleman said the foundation lets the providers lead the way when it comes to deciding how to best address these problems. 

“County commissioners have asked me, ‘how do we know what the needs are?’ and I tell them the providers let us know,” she said. 

The Evergreen Foundation does place a priority on preventative programs because that type of funding is also hard to come by. Many other organizations choose to fund programs that have a clearly defined success rate, but prevention is key when trying to improve the behavioral health system since preventative services are more cost effective than treatment programs. 

“Most grant organizations and foundations don’t do a lot with prevention because it’s not quantifiable all the time,” Coleman said. 

Evergreen has awarded funds to Meridian Behavioral Health Services’ early substance use recovery program and has assisted Appalachian Community Services for several years in funding assessment and treatment programs inside the detention centers. Meridian recently received funding to get a similar program started at the Haywood County Detention Center. 

The foundation has given funds to Mountain Projects that was used to purchase and distribute naloxone, a nasal spray that can be administered to reverse a drug overdose and save someone’s life. Evergreen has also given funds for agencies to provide safe places for addicts to throw away their used needles, which pose health risks to the entire community if not disposed of properly.

Evergreen has assisted the NC Aids Project in expanding in to Western North Carolina by opening an office in Macon County, helped start a new parent education program in Graham County and a project in Swain County to offer adolescent support for mental health and drug abuse. 

Most recently, Evergreen helped fund an expansion project at Appalachian Community Services’ Balsam Center in Waynesville. The expansion and renovation will allow the center to become a 24/7 urgent care for people experiencing a mental health crisis or those seeking help for substance use. 

Before Coleman joined the Evergreen Foundation three years ago, she was a behavioral health provider so she has a very good understanding of the challenges they face and the programs needed to help communities deal with mental health and substance use issues. While Evergreen’s goal is to fund projects that an agency can sustain for years to come without further assistance, that’s becoming harder with funding cuts from the state. Providers have less certainty about whether their funding will be there the following year. 

“It’s a real challenge — providers don’t know if it will be there in another three years so we want to help them sustain the programs,” she said. “And with the substance use issues with the opioids, so many people are needing services than ever before.”

Coleman said the foundation usually receives requests for three times the amount of funding available, which means not everyone gets what they ask for, but Coleman works with agencies to scale back some requests so the board can at least award partial funding. 

There are four opportunities a year for agencies to apply for funding from Evergreen — applications are due in May for the first round of funding, which is the best shot at getting a larger sum of money. With an entire year’s worth of investment money available, Coleman said the board awards about 75 percent of the funds for projects slated to start July 1. The board reviews other requests in September and December — usually for smaller capital improvement projects. 

“We have good agencies that are good stewards of the money we award,” Coleman said. “And Evergreen has good relationships with the different agencies, which is really important in WNC since we’re so spaced out geographically.”

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Peer-to-Peer recovery class

The 10-week Peer-to-Peer recovery education class for adults with the challenge of mental illness will be offered in Franklin starting March 7 by National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

This curriculum covers the major mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, PTSD and others. Treatments, coping strategies, stress reduction, and relapse prevention are some of the topics addressed in this safe confidential environment. 

No fee. Preregistration required. Class size limited. To register call Ann at 828.369.7385.


Weekly recovery group

NAMI Appalachian South hold a weekly support group for people with mental illness from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays at the First United Methodist Church in Franklin. 

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