Scott Dahlke, Executive Director of Muscatine Center for Social Action (MCSA) has always had a passion for helping people care for their mental health. When he first came to Muscatine, he started out working at the Robert Young Center, located in MCSA’s lower level. Now, Dahlke and the whole team at MCSA have worked to bring mental health services to the forefront by creating the Robert Young Mental Health Peer-Led Drop in Center at MCSA (the Drop in Center). The first of its kind in the region, the Drop in Center promises to reduce barriers to mental health care and help people in the community find the help they need.
The impetus for the Drop in Center came from MCSA’s desire to help returning clients get the support they need to climb out of poverty. When Dahlke looked at the data on who stayed in MCSA’s emergency shelter, he found that about eighty percent of clients came because of an emergency and did not return once they got back on their feet.
However, about twenty percent of the people they served kept coming back regularly. Dahlke found that many of the people in this category had untreated mental health problems that made it difficult for them to find stable jobs and housing situations. Dahlke knew MCSA needed to find a way to help these people, so he reached out to the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disabilities Services Region to request funding for the Drop in Center. Once MCSA got approval, Dahlke asked Robert Young if they would like to facilitate the Drop in Center. They said yes, starting an incredible program.
From 8:00 am until 7:00 pm Monday through Friday, anyone in the community may come to the Drop in Center. There, guests may complete puzzles, play games, or simply relax for as long as they like. A peer support specialist (a person who has experienced mental illness and received training to help others manage their own conditions) will speak with anyone who visits the Drop in Center. The person may request free individual or group counseling from Robert Young’s certified staff or may decline it as they see fit. In Dahlke’s opinion, this feature of the Drop in Center sets it apart and will ultimately lead to its success. “That’s the quintessential part of it. It’s a low barrier, low pressure environment.”
To celebrate the Drop in Center’s opening, MCSA held an open house on Thursday, September 26th. At the event, the community could come and view the facilities and meet the Robert Young staff members who work there. Visitors could also participate in a unique fundraiser to lend more support to the Drop in Center.
Chris Anderson, a local artist, spent time at MCSA in the past and received mental health care from the Robert Young Center. To give back to two organizations that supported him, he created a series of paintings for MCSA to auction off at the open house inspired by the works of famous artists who also suffered from mental illnesses. Through his creativity and generosity, Anderson showed just how the support MCSA offers can help people thrive and give back to their communities.
So far, the Drop in Center serves three to twelve people each day, and Dahlke predicts this number will grow as more people learn about it. Dahlke welcomes this growth and feels proud that MCSA can offer such an outstanding service to the Muscatine community. “We are just so thrilled,” he shared. “We’re always looking for better ways to help people . . . and this is a way to provide that.”