The United Way of Pettis County is getting involved in local mental health efforts in hopes of creating more awareness and action.

UWPC realigned its focus areas earlier this year based on community input. One of the biggest areas of concern for citizens became one of the three focuses: mental health and substance abuse. As UWPC also transitions away from just raising money to give its funded partners, the locally-operated board is looking to help with systemic changes by identifying the root cause of many community problems.

There are numerous mental health and substance abuse programs already available in Pettis County, such as the trauma-informed care roundtable group and the Stepping Up initiative. UWPC board member Chris Stewart, who is also part of those other groups, said United Way is “creating a mechanism” for those groups to integrate their work and work more effectively.

“We don’t want to create another program or effort but facilitate more community engagement and connect, integrate efforts going on,” Stewart said. “United Way is in a unique position to lead that integration mainly because of the diverse involvement the United Way has.”

In October, United Way hosted an informational meeting for any entities related to mental health and substance abuse such as education, law enforcement, health care providers, faith organizations and nonprofits. About 60 people attended the meeting that discussed what Pettis County already offers and what else needs to be done. About 40 people signed up to attend the next meeting in December where attendees were divided up into groups based on their areas of expertise. Those groups then discussed long-term and short-term goals and determined two co-leaders that would represent them in a steering committee that reports to the UWPC board.

Stewart said the goals ranged from more engagement with the community and collaborating with each other to educating themselves more about local services. Stewart, who is CEO of Katy Trail Community Health, is part of the clinical group. She said their goals include getting more group members, getting educated on what it means to be trauma-informed, and thinking more creatively about the local health care workforce and what’s appropriate for Pettis County.

“One goal is before we talk about the need for more services, we’ve gotta understand as a community the extent of what we’re using, what we have, and how efficiently are we using it,” Stewart said. She noted that one of the main comments she hears is the need for more psychiatrists in Sedalia. While she doesn’t necessarily disagree that more providers are needed, she said the community needs to evaluate and educate itself: are current providers fully utilized? If we need more providers, which specialties should we bring to Sedalia? Do citizens know about all the programs offered in Pettis County?

“Many people at the meeting said they didn’t realize how much is being done,” UWPC Executive Director Staci Harrison said.

By working with UWPC, there are funding opportunities that some programs and projects could take advantage of. Through its annual fundraising campaign, which goes through the end of 2019, the UWPC board offers grants for programs that align with the three focus areas.

Stewart said she knows the whole effort sounds more theoretical but that there are real, practical things happening. For example, local pastors were at the meetings and they said that while they are able to help and counsel church members, there are mental health and substance abuse problems they just aren’t equipped to handle. By participating in the UWPC efforts and connecting with area providers and programs, faith-based organizations can “learn about resources and put additional tools in their toolkit,” Stewart said.

Another goal is to identify best practices and implement them across the county to create more consistency. Stewart said one example would be having all Pettis County school districts adopt the same model for mental health, which would make it easier when working with clinicians or other providers. It could also help the workforce by addressing the root causes of substance abuse issues, as Harrison said many employers face problems in the hiring process due to drug use.

A lot of it will take a culture change to open more discussions about mental health and substance abuse, and more education for citizens to learn what is available in Pettis County, Stewart and Harrison both said.

“There are so many facets of opportunity to improve our community,” Harrison said.

For more information or to get involved, contact Harrison at 660-826-2980 or


Nicole Cooke is the editor for the Sedalia Democrat, overseeing all newsroom operations and assisting with news coverage of Sedalia and Pettis County. She can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.

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