Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said Friday that this month’s Stepping Up Initiative meeting addressed three big developments including adoption of bylaws for the Pettis County Mental Health Coalition.

The mission statement for the Coalition, a nonprofit entity, states it is “to form a collaborative effort of law enforcement, courts and correction officials, mental health professionals, health care providers, consumers and family members from Pettis County by implementing coordinated approaches to assist and better serve individuals with mental illness.”

Bond will serve as the chairperson for the Coalition, with the positions of vice-chair and secretary tabled until the Oct. 6 meeting.

“So this is the process that we feel we need to put in place to prepare us for taking on grants,” Bond said. “If we become the recipient of grants, we will need to have some type of official designation.”

He added that the next step in the process is applying for 501(c)(3) status. JoAnn Martin, chair of the boundary spanner subcommittee, will look into obtaining the 501(c)(3) status.

“We do have a potential funding source,” he said. “There is a grant that’s out there … that potentially could provide for start-up funds.”

The grant money would be useful in helping the Coalition hire an individual to run a proposed diversion center, Bond added. Pettis County does not have a designated center to place those in a mental health crisis. Many often end up in the criminal justice system, stalemated in jails instead of receiving needed treatment.

“It would be a paid position, rather than of all of us doing things on an ad hoc basis,” he said. “So, that will be something we will address in the next meeting.”

Solicitation for the grant opens Sept. 15. Bond said by the next Stepping Up meeting they should have a fairly clear idea of how they want to proceed in writing it.

“At the next meeting, if we have not already submitted the grant, we will be probably in the last stages,” he said.

Another development for the Coalition/Stepping Up was the attendance by Bond and Sedalia Police Department Officer Mark Cherry at a forum with the Behavioral Health + Economic Network (BHECON) in Kansas City.

A federal grant allowed both men to attend BHECON, which was in partnership with the Missouri Coalition for Community Behavioral Health and the National Council for Behavioral Health. Bond participated in a round-table discussion and learned to look at mental illness in a new way.

BHECON speaker Bart Andrews, Ph.D., of St. Louis, told the group they need to change the way they see people with mental illness.

“Usually we see them as sick, and problematic and out of their mind, and crazy” Bond said. “But the reality is for most of them, that is their reality, and they don’t necessarily see themselves as crazy or sick. So, there’s a distortion that’s there.”

The men learned to see mental illness from the person’s perspective, which in turn helps not only law enforcement, but others “navigate” them through the crisis.

“It gave a little bit different perspective,” Bond said. “It kind of opened my eyes a little bit, to a different way of viewing the people we’ve dealt with … in order to have an impact and an effect you have to be able to see it through their perspective.”

Also in August, Denise Woolery, chair of the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) subcommittee, and Tammy Pittman attended the Train the Trainer workshop in Jefferson City.

“It was a two- or three-day training that they said was very, very intense, and very emotional,” Bond noted. “They are planning on having a support meeting sometime throughout the month of September. So, that’s a huge development.”

NAMI previously hosted meetings in Pettis County in the late 1990s before disbanding.

“So, now we’re restarting that back up,” he said. “They said they are looking for a place to have their sessions.”

NAMI will benefit Pettis County by offering support for family members who have loved ones “suffering” with mental illness. Bond noted it will guide the family through the process and be an advocate for them especially if they are faced with a loved one involved in the criminal justice system due to mental health issues.

NAMI plans to begin meeting on a monthly basis soon.

The Stepping Up Initiative meets at 1 p.m. the first Thursday of the month in the Thompson Conference Center at State Fair Community College. The next meeting will be Oct. 6.

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