Local Church Partnership Helps UCC’s Orion Family Services Better Serve Rural Wisconsin Community

The Monroe Home, owned by St. John’s UCC, opened last fall as an outpatient services facility for Orion Family Services.

Sometimes, all it takes to increase services to a wider community is the help of friends. That adage proved true in November 2018, when Orion Family Services — based in Madison, Wis. — officially opened a new outpatient mental health site in nearby rural Green County.

The new clinic is located at Monroe House, owned by St. John’s UCC in Monroe, Wis. The church has been a partner in service with Orion for more than 20 years, says Stacey Parke, Orion’s executive director, and “graciously supported this new endeavor, with a shared vision to expand valuable services to children and families in Monroe and surrounding areas.”

Prior to the opening of the clinic, Orion had used Monroe House as a girls’ group home. When the group home closed in late 2016, renovations began. Monroe House was certified by the State of Wisconsin as a satellite mental health outpatient site for Orion on Nov. 12, 2018. The next day, the new clinic began taking referrals. But serving as an outpatient site is just one of the many ways the new clinic is benefiting the local community.

“In addition to its use as an outpatient mental health site, Monroe House is also available for staff already serving the Green County area,” says Tia Long, clinical supervisor and individual/family therapist at Orion, “and immediately began being utilized by in-home therapists and staff from Orion’s Community Services Program for sessions with families and administrative duties.”

Community Services also uses Monroe House to provide independent living services for adolescents and young adults. “Since the space is a refurbished group home, it is equipped with a kitchen, dining room, and space to be able to facilitate family interactions in a positive and neutral location,” Long says.

One of the largest benefits of the new space is easier access to services for the rural Green County community. “There is a significant lack of mental health services available in rural areas, and access to such services is prohibited by many barriers, including transportation concerns, waiting lists, and lack of providers,” says Long. “The local clinic in Monroe has a wait list of 70 children and families, who are waiting months to be able to meet with a provider. With the addition of Monroe House, local residents are able to be served in their community and can access services more readily. The hope is that as referrals increase, the number of clinicians serving that site will also be able to increase to meet the need.”

Monroe House also is used by Orion’s in-home clinicians serving Green County to meet with other providers, for case management, and for meetings with individuals and/or families when another space may not be available, as in the case of a child whose family is homeless and needs a more structured environment for a session.

With Orion’s satellite facility providing a greater presence in the county, Long envisions Orion being able to more effectively provide access to healthcare, stabilization of families, and increased well-being of community members.

“We will be able to partner more effectively with schools, local organizations, and agencies to serve youth and at-risk populations in meaningful and hopefully preventive ways,” Long says. “We have already begun collaboration with other agencies and another mental health private practice about the needs of the community and how we can work together to meet those needs.”

Running throughout the story of Monroe House and Orion’s expanded services is the support of St. John’s.

“Orion Family Services has roots deep in the mission of the United Church of Christ and there is no better example of that than its relationship with the St. John’s UCC of Monroe, Wis.,” says Hugh Meyers, Orion’s former director.

The steps involved in opening the new clinic speaks volumes about that relationship. Converting Monroe House to an outpatient clinic office required numerous steps and seeking a waiver of zoning ordinances from the city. The waiver hearing was attended by Orion staff, and also by representatives from St. John’s. “Many members of the church came to show their support and speak on behalf of Orion,” Meyers says. “Needless to say, Orion and St. John have started another venture to help serve the Monroe and Green County community.”

Sometimes, St. John’s helps Orion in those large ways. Other times, it’s the little things that mean the most.

“In the early years, we provided a small amount of outpatient therapy out of an office [in the church’s] education wing, with volunteers from the church rotating as reception staff during office hours,” says current director Parke. “During a recent church grounds clean-up event, they brought folks over to [Monroe House] and cleaned the grounds, even tackling a nasty hornet’s nest that had been creating a bit of excitement for the staff.”

Parke adds, “We are so very grateful for the many years and multiple ways St. John’s UCC has provided support and prayers for the work of our agency.”

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