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Wellspace- Be Well!

wellspaceWELLSPACE, formerly known as Summer Street, is a bustling place these days.  On any given day, you can walk into the building and find people working out, making art, doing yoga, making chocolate, spending time with doula’s preparing for an upcoming birth, and many other activities.  According to the WELLSPACE vision statement, “the primary mission is to provide creative programs and spaces for clients and the surrounding community to increase overall health, wellbeing and happiness”.  From the sense of things at WELLSPACE today, you can certainly tell that this vision is alive and well and that this is a special place that is providing wellness services, fighting stigma, and providing mutual benefit to both consumers and staff in our community mental health system.  As Mary Moulton stated at the recent WELLSPACE Open House, “This is a stigma-busting place!” 

The Summer Street building has been part of Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMHS) since 1994, and has held a variety of programs including Ch.O.I.C.E. Academy, Community Developmental Services programming, and Community Support Services programming.  In the months leading up to the winter of 2014, Phil Wells, Mary Moulton and other senior managers at WCMHS strategized to find a way to offer a variety of wellness based programming that was complimentary to the clinical services being offered across the agency.  The group decided that the Summer Street building would be a great space to house this innovative project that could bring providers and clients, from across the agency, into one place for the purpose of promoting positive wellbeing for all involved.  Phil Wells, one of the longest working staff at WCMHS, took the reins at Summer Street and began to create the environment and programming for what would become WELLSPACE.   Over the course of the next 18 months, Phil and his team turned Summer Street into the vibrant, compassionate place it is today.  As Phil said in a recent interview, “We want this to be a place where people can do their thing in an open and non-judgmental setting.”  Phil is passionate about the recent findings in the fields of neuroscience and mental health that show a clear connection between using right-brain based modalities such as exercise and art and improvements in people’s overall wellbeing.  At the recent open house, Phil emphasized a guiding principle behind the programming at WELLSPACE when he said, “WELLSPACE is place where the focus is on the other part…what people are good at and makes them feel good as opposed to more traditionally focused mental health care which looks for what is wrong.”   Phil and his team of program directors recently came up with the new name for Summer Street when they decided WELLSPACE would be the perfect moniker for the type of complimentary programming and healthy environment they hope to offer to those who come in for supports and for those who work in the building.

As mentioned earlier, WELLSPACE has a variety of programs that now call this building home.  One of the most beneficial aspects of one space hosting many varied programs is the breaking down of more traditional silos of service found in community mental health.  Jacob St. Onge, the Program Manager for Pre-Employment Training Services, said working in the building is inspiring because “you are surrounded by creativity in a welcoming setting.”  Jackie Jones, the Program Manager for the Adult Access and Reach Up Programs, short-term adult mental health supports, said “We just need to keep it wonderful and moving, there is so much potential here.”  Clearly, staff at WELLSPACE really enjoy the open and collaborative setting.  WELLSPACE is a great example of a popular mental health tag line; mental ‘we’llness as opposed to mental ‘i’llness.  Through fostering a community feel in a building that brings clients from birth to 80 together in one place, WELLSPACE is helping reduce stigma and eliminate unnecessary boundaries.  artOne individual who has found WELLSPACE to be a very positive outlet for his creative pursuits and wellness is Brian Carrier, the WELLSPACE Artist in Residence.  Brian has been coming to WELLSPACE for over a year now, and has produced some fantastic artwork and provided mentoring to many others who use Open Studio, the art space in the building.  Brian’s artwork was featured at the WELLSPACE Open House and now adorns the walls throughout the building.  Brian feels WELLSPACE “is the center of the community.”  Brian described the “benefit of having a career with purpose” that he has experienced by being able to utilize the Open Studio.  Brian has had a lifelong goal of creating artwork that expressed some of his deeper beliefs, and Open Studio in WELLSPACE has given him the opportunity to do this in a way that helps maintain his sense of wellbeing while also benefiting others who get to see and experience his incredible artwork.

The Wellness Collaborative, Chocolate for Change (C4C), and the Doula Project are three programs at WELLSPACE that offer services that are not typically found at a community mental health center like WCMHS.  The success of their programming may be the pathway that creates a change in how we think about mental health services in the future.  The Wellness Collaborative, headed up by Ellia Cohen, offers a variety of wellness based groups throughout the year, and WELLSPACE is utilized for several of these including Cooking for Self-Care and Yoga.  Ellia believes the fact that the building is within walking distance and is on the local bus route makes WELLSPACE perfectly suited to serve clients in Barre and central Vermont who are often underserved due to transportation issues.  The Doula Project is a first-of-its-kind program nationally in community mental health, and Program Manager Maria Noyes is taking steps to bring doula services to individuals and families who may not otherwise have access to this important modality.  Chocolate for Change has been a program at WCMHS for a several years now, and continues to work at capacity helping youth develop confidence and competence.  This past summer, the C4C kitchen was completely updated and Program Manager Heather Houle was certified as both a proctor and instructor for ServSafe, a nationally recognized food safety program.  This will increase the level of professionalism offered through the program which will in turn make the youth who work there all the more ready to enter the workforce ready to succeed.   There are other programs housed at WELLSPACE that offer services such as job training for youth and adults with mental health struggles, community based interventions for previously incarcerated individuals, and many innovative children’s therapeutic groups.  See the WELLSPACE brochure for more information on each program.

In all, WELLSPACE is a classic example of the sum of the parts equaling more than the individual programs, yet it is a true mosaic made up of uniquely individualized programming.  As an overall setting, WELLSPACE offers something for everyone in a way that helps reduce stigma, invites community, and promotes wellness.  In time, Phil Wells and others involved would like to see the programming offered to all community members in Barre and central Vermont.  Phil envisions a time when people “come in and choose from a mixture of options” that best suits their self-identified and self-directed goals.  Currently, many of the services at WELLSPACE are not able to be billed within the traditional mental health system, but in time, this may change as the positive outcomes, now beginning to be seen at WELLSPACE, are documented and shown as reproducible over time.  WELLSPACE demonstrates what can happen when current research coincides with knowledge gained through real life clinical experience and is then embraced by leaders who are willing to boldly go in the direction this leads.  Look forward to many years of progressive services and effective results coming out of WELLSPACE.

Written 12/2015

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