The Mental Wellness Center is celebrating 75 years of providing mental health services to the people of Santa Barbara.
For 30 of those years, Annmarie Cameron has served as the organization’s CEO, nurturing it from a small to a mid-sized nonprofit that serves thousands of people every year.
“We’ve expanded the way we approach our work,” Cameron said. “We aim to catch people earlier rather than waiting for them to become mentally unwell. We understand the value of early intervention and prevention, the sooner you address it, the better the outcomes are.”
During the past couple of years, providing timely prevention and mental wellness treatment has been a challenge, especially in the days when face-to-face interaction wasn’t possible. But the Mental Wellness Center was able to adapt by using video to stream meetings and educational opportunities when gathering wasn’t possible. At other times, socially distanced services were available in person.
The Mental Wellness Center will resume in-person interactions in early April and has big plans. A recent grant has allowed Cameron to hire people to spearhead new programs and initiatives to serve those in the community who are struggling with anxiety, depression, or making social connections.
“We’ve hired two brand new people and I’ve promoted one more into three new positions,” Cameron said.
This “dynamic trio,” as Cameron calls the group, will help create Community Wellness Programs that will allow the center to maintain a full schedule of activities from morning, noon and night.
The dynamic trio
Gabriela Dodson is the new Director of Wellness and Recovery Programs, a position that pairs well with her previous experience working in holistic programming. As a licensed clinical social worker, Dodson previously worked with public defenders to help people experiencing homelessness or mental illness. She supported people in their interactions with the justice system, with a goal of diverting them to community-based programs.
At the Mental Wellness Center, Dodson hopes to enhance social connection, wellness activities and community support offerings.
“We want to hear from individuals and families to learn what needs they have,” Dodson said. “Some people are searching for structured support groups and others may be looking for casual wellness activities. Many will be looking for supports for a friend or a loved one.”
Fortunately, the Mental Wellness Center has a large location with classrooms and a 5000 square foot patio that can be used for a variety of events, such as music, art, tai chi, and yoga, Cameron said. There will also continue to be offerings like the Fellowship Club, which provides access to peer Wellness and Recovery Coaches and other daily activities, and the Care Closet an on-site thrift store, a computer lab and an art studio.
The dynamic trio also includes Assistant Director of Wellness and Recovery Programs, Vicente Garcia Jr., a Santa Barbara native who comes from a career in youth justice programming. He recently completed his master’s degree in counseling and has a passion for helping people.
“He is a passionate mental health advocate,” Cameron said. “He has the right heart and motivation for the job. He cares about the community and now has the skills to be that much more effective.”
Alexis Freeborn rounds out the dynamic trio with her promotion to Assistant Director of Wellness and Recovery Programs. Prior to the promotion, as the manager of the MWC Education Programs, Alexis led the Wellness Connection Council, a youth program of the Mental Wellness Center, as well as other educational programs. She is completing her master’s degree in counseling.
Cameron added “These three leaders will combine their personal expertise and passion for community mental wellness to make the Mental Wellness Center a place where healing and recovery take root”.
For more information about programs at the Mental Wellness Center, visit mentalwellnesscenter.org.