The Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, looking back and forward on its work to provide care for residents with mental health issues while working to lessen stigma around mental health in the village.

To mark the occasion, the board is hosting a party May 24. The free event is open to anyone wishing to celebrate the health board’s long history of providing mental health support for the community – and its future.

“We’d love to have you there,” said Cheryl Potts, the mental health board’s executive director.

The two-hour event kicks off at 5 p.m., May 24, at the historic Cheney Mansion, 220 N. Euclid Ave. While members of the health board, its partner agencies and local officials will all be there, the event is strictly a casual celebration, not a fundraiser. Hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be served, so raise a glass to the board’s continued efforts to improve access to mental health support. 

The community mental health board is a branch of the township dedicated to filling the funding gaps for mental health services not covered by state and federal money, according to Potts. In its early years, the mental health board directly provided mental health services. 

“The board provided those services as an effort to help get people out of hospitals and institutions that were basically warehouses for people with a mental health disorder or developmental disorder,” said Potts. 

Once out of those facilities, the community mental health board helped those individuals reenter the community, while still providing care as they lived and worked in Oak Park. 

As time went on, other outside agencies began to take on that same mission, so the community mental health board restructured to its current form of funding, advising and collaborating with non-profit mental health agencies. 

“They’re also creative thought partners,” said Jenni Rook, executive director of Thrive Counseling Center. “It’s great to just sit and brainstorm, like, what does the community need? What can Thrive provide?”

Thrive receives financial support from the community mental health board as well. The board funds Thrive’s suicide prevention training at Oak Park and River Forest High School and it covers the costs of Thrive therapy services for uninsured Oak Park clients. Therapy costs for uninsured clients amounts to roughly $50,000, according to Rook, who will be at the anniversary celebration.  

“That’s been wonderful to have their support, but I think more importantly it’s their partnership in serving the community,”

The mental health board’s other partner agencies include the National Alliance of Mental Illness, which has its metro suburban drop-in center at 814 Harrison St. The NAMI drop-in center provides a safe and stigma-free space for adults, aged 18 and up, living with acute mental health conditions. There, those individuals can socialize, recover and build life skills at no cost. The community mental health board has been funding the drop-in center for roughly 20 years, according to Kimberly Knake, NAMI Metro Suburban executive director. 

“The CMHB of Oak Park really plays an important part in prevention, which is really key to better mental health outcomes long-term,” said Knake.

The community mental health board has partnered with NAMI for close to 25 years of NAMI’s 30-year existence, working together to destigmatize mental health in Oak Park. Beyond funding the drop-in center, the mental health board supports the agency’s education efforts, teaching teenagers in local schools and their parents to identify symptoms of mental health conditions, as well as to build empathy and understanding. 

“We’ve come a long way, and without the community mental health board’s support, I don’t think we’d be where we are,” said Knake, who will be at the May 24 event.

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