Mental health matters

SANDY SCARMACK | HeraldKip Hoffman took over as head of Community Counseling on Nov. 1.

HERMITAGE – Mercer County enjoys a rich collaborative effort that newly named Community Counseling Center Director Kip Hoffman sees as a benefit when it comes to serving the mental health needs of the community.

Hoffman, who took over on Nov. 1, replacing Angelo Stamoolis, said he’s been involved in multiple roles in the social work industry since he first took on the work some 39 years ago. In that time, he’s worked with adults and adolescents, developing programs to help solve problems. He said he particularly enjoyed working a school setting, dealing with clients and their families.

During those years, the community needs have remained relatively the same, he said, with just some variation on the details.

For instance, he said, when he started as a social worker alcohol was a big problem. Many clients were seeking help for addiction. “And that hasn’t gone away, he said, but the complexity of the problem has changed.”

“Now, we’re seeing clients struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, mainly prescription drug addictions, which often turn to a heroin addiction when those drugs are no longer available. It ebbs and flows, but it’s always been with us,” he said.

One of the agencies under the county’s Behavioral Health Commission, the counseling center in Hermitage is looking for ways to expand to meet the void left by the closure of Sharon Regional Health System’s drug and alcohol programs.

“It’s that collaborative I mentioned with all the other agencies and providers. We want to make sure clients have access to a variety of providers so they have some choices,” he said.

Along with providing drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, the agency tries to stabilize and help those afflicted with mental health move forward.

“There are people who recover from it. I know sometimes people think it’s an illness you can’t ever get over. But what we do here has to do with moving our role from that of a caretaker to a partner. We’re here to help people on their journey to recovery,” Hoffman said.

Still not quite moved into his new office, Hoffman said he’s thrilled with agency’s location along East State Street, in the former County Market store. “The shuttle bus stops here with no changes. So people can have a real ease of access in getting here. And if you’re struggling as it is, sometimes the smallest problems are enough to stop you.”

He also showed off the client-run cafe, complete with wi-fi, that gives those trying to recover a sense of purpose and a way to fit in with others. “It’s a great start, working in the cafe, or hanging out there, to work their way back into society,” he said.

Like any agency, he said, he wishes there were unlimited funds, but feels his new role as director requires him to be the best steward possible of the $8.5 million budget. The non-profit agency has been open since 1957 and serves about 2,500 clients.

“Of course the needs outstrip the resources, but we are careful in how we allocate our funds,” he said.

The community can help in several ways, he said. First, by reducing the stigma attached to mental illness. “People who are dealing with problems need to be able trust other people and know they won’t be judged. They need an opportunity to become engaged with their community,” he said.

“Society uses labels, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. That label serves to perpetuate the problem,” he said.

“Help isn’t always found in formal counseling. Sometimes it just takes being involved in church or neighborhood groups,” he said.

“Second, the community needs to let us know what their needs are. We want to help the entire community get healthier. We want those who face mental illness or other problems to know we’re here. To celebrate the victories a person has and help them on to connect with their community,” he said.

He also said helping clients find employment is a big part of the work his agency does. “If we can get a person re-engaged toward his dreams, that’s the biggest thing. To let them know they aren’t defined by their illness,” he added.

He said just recently he was in a grocery store when a man approached him and thanked him. “He look familiar, but I didn’t recognize him. He told me that he was an alcoholic who has been sober for 30 years. He said if he hadn’t gotten help, he would have lost everything. He said he had a great job and a great family,” Hoffman said.

“That’s what it’s about. Supporting people while they do the heavy lifting,” he said.

He encourages people to review the center’s website to look at all the services provided.

Hoffman lives in Mercer County with his wife, Rose. They have two grown children. 


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