At Vitals™, we are only as good as our partners including mental health advocacy groups, 1st responders, 911 centers, communities members and more. We are honored to tell you more about Wellness in the Woods.
Guest Author: Jode Freyholtz-London, Executive Director Wellness in the Woods
Wellness in the Woods was founded in 2013 in response to the former Minnesota consumer organization’s demise. All staff and board members of the organization identify as having their own lived mental health and or substance use experience.
“Our mission is to provide accessible, affordable and helpful peer led resources with compassionate and nonjudgmental support and advocacy, and opportunities for those who are experiencing or have been affected by mental health and substance use challenges, to be heard”
In 2016 the organization was successful in obtaining funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in a three-year funding partnership. With that contract the organization developed 8 peer positions statewide as Outreach Associates who along with offering educational seminars, give support and hope to individuals who have mental health challenges in 8 geographic areas of MN. These highly trained and passionate survivors joined the board and management in increasing capacity of the organization as a whole. In 2016 working with Wadena and Todd counties, Wellness in the Woods created the Peer Support Connection warmline and by 2018 was funded by the Region 5+, Region 7E and Arrowhead Adult Mental Health Initiatives which includes 11 counties and three tribal entities.
In 2019 the organization was awarded a 2 year contract with MN DHS to provide Peer Support Connection, the warmline statewide. This contract was renewed for 2 more years on July 1, 2021 and employs 20 peer staff. Peer staff answer the warmline from 5pm to 9am every day and have served over 18,000 callers thus far in 2021. Callers are from minimally 72 of the 87 counties, 65% identify as having substance use challenges. The warmline offers technology that can translate up to 76 languages if required.
Presently ten Outreach associates located from geographic and culturally diverse communities assist with the annual conference, provide the Wellness Recovery Action Plan both in person and virtually, share pertinent mental health and substance use resources at events, seminars and the Mn State Fair Mental Health Awareness day as well as serve on numerous governing boards and advisory councils.
In 2108 Wellness in the Woods entered into a contract with the CommUnity Adult Behavioral Health Initiative to provide social events on a weekly basis throughout 4 counties of central Mn. “Imagine Network” offers social events that any community member would enjoy and offers them in a safe, comfortable environment for individuals who identify as having mental health challenges.
With the challenges of COVID 19, the team moved all training and peer support to a virtual platform. The Imagine Network program evolved into the Virtual Peer Support Network and serves as a virtual peer support everyday from 10am to 4pm. The VPSN program employs 18 peer staff and has added VPSN plus sessions for individuals in substance use recovery. Collected data shows that there have been over 3700 interactions on VPSN year to date in 2021.
New SAMHSA funding was obtained in April of 2021 to provide support and do outreach in frontier areas of Mn and to diverse communities statewide. This has led to an annual diversity conference and hiring of staff from the New American-Immigrant, LGBTQ+, Native American, Latino, Hmong, African American community as well as staff from both metro, frontier and rural areas of the state.
Staff retention is near or above 80%. The foundation of the organization reflects that basis of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan and the strong base of peer support. The organization does not provide any services that are billed to insurance of public funders. This organizational programming allows for support to individuals in any place in their recovery journey including pre-crisis and maintaining support systems. Wellness in the Woods strives to provide services, hiring and recruiting board members utilizing Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services to accurately reflect the demographics of Minnesota. Of the 44 peer staff 75% represent rural and/or diverse communities.
Wellness in the Woods uses the Wellness Recovery Action Plan as the foundation for organizational health. Each staff person has the option to create their own WRAP and the recovery language of WRAP is used throughout the team. The key concepts of this plan are Hope, Personal Responsibility, Education, Self Advocacy and Support. The staff has grown to 46 peers who are certified as peer specialists, peer recovery specialists, forensic peer specialists and family peers.
There is no fee for the peer services offered. Individuals who would benefit from peer support can access information at www.mnwitw.org. Zoom access is available from 10-4 each day and Friday evenings from 7-8 for individuals in substance use recovery. The peer support connection is available every day of the year at 1-844-739-6369.
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