History of Mental Health Associates of the Triad (formerly High Point Mental Health Association)
1967 - 2017
The agency has grown from a small dedicated group of volunteers to a broader base of community support. MHA of the Triad is dedicated to increasing the public understanding and acceptance of persons with mental illness through the delivery of the most appropriate and effective services for those in need.
Under our former name, High Point Mental Health Association, we were founded in 1967, due to an effort principally led by Rachel Gray, a local and statewide advocate of services to the mentally ill and a former N.C. Senator. The original slate of officers was:
President – Rachel Gray
Vic-President – Bill McGuinn
Secretary/Treasurer – Wanna Blanton
Nominating Committee Chair – Dr. Kenneth Geddie, Sr.
Constitution & By-Laws Committee Chair – Kathleen Foy
Education Committee Chair – Dr. Bill Matthews
Public Relations Committee Chair – Violet Ponds
Study Committee – Made up of Peggy Amos, Roma Foister Amos and Helen Covington
We quickly experienced regular involvement, advocacy and funding from a group of Junior League volunteers—referred to later as the Junior League Mental Health Committee— spearheaded initially by the late Junior Leaguer Betty Simmons. Betty was inducted as a Board member of our agency and, in fact, the Junior League maintained a presence on our Board into the 1990’s. Gayle Kearns was another early “mover and shaker” from the Junior League, becoming a member of our Board in 1970 and actively advocating for our cause, including travelling to Raleigh with our first Board President, Rachel Gray, to gain comprehension of mental health needs and services in North Carolina.
As plans began to take shape in 1968 for a social rehabilitation club to meet the needs of the chronically mentally ill members of the community who were living on their own, Margaret Randle joined our Board in 1969 and was extremely active as our Social Coordinator. She, along with Ann Bernot, brought “The Phoenix Club” into existence by 1970, which was a drop-in “club” for local persons with mental illness to gain support, education and do social activities. The Phoenix Club was the precursor to our daily 2-hour Way-In Program (late 1970’s), which eventually was absorbed into our state-mandated and government-funded 5- hour Destiny House day program (taken over from the county in 2002). Margaret was able to arrange for The Phoenix Club to meet at the Junior League’s location at the YWCA and Beverly McCabe was its first program director. By 1972, First Methodist Church on North Main Street had generously offered The Phoenix Club a permanent location within their church, free of rent. The church allowed our Phoenix Club/Way-In group to meet there for almost two decades, after which the group met briefly at the Lion & Lamb Ministry on North Main before moving into the permanent building purchased by MHA on Lindsay Street in 1990.
In addition to her involvement in the start-up of the Phoenix Club, Margaret worked with a group of Junior Leaguers, led by Miss Julia Drake, to establish and direct our first
Operation Santa Claus Committee in 1969. Their function at that time was to collect donated gifts for Guilford County patients in the state mental hospital in Raleigh and get those delivered, which was done through the generosity of Old Dominion Freight Line. The Elks Lodge Women’s Auxiliary has also participated in this gift collection, as has Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church , from 2004 to the present. We still use the Operation Santa Claus project to provide gifts for Guilford County patients in the state hospital and for our adult day program participants here in High Point.
By January 1, 1974, HP MHA was ready to hire a part-time Executive Director and found Anne Perkerson Thomas to be the best applicant for the position. We acquired our first independent landline phone number, the 336-883-7480 still used today, and the Director’s offices were located in various spaces, including the First Citizens Bank building, an old nursing dormitory on Boulevard Street, briefly at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church around 1981, and in the Holt-McPherson Center at 305 North Main Street beginning in 1982. Eventually the administrative office and the Way-In group could share the same space when an old house was purchased as commercial real estate at 216 Lindsay Street in 1990. Because of very generous donors—the Jack and Marsha Slane Family, The E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and The Keith D. Clark, Sr. & Thelma S. Clark Family Foundation— the debt on our new “home” was quickly paid off by the mid-1990’s. Incidentally, around this same time, we were able to work with the County to secure a Housing and Urban Development grant to build a group home for adults with mental illness—the first of its kind in High Point, which opened in 1996 on North Ward Avenue.
Also occurring in the 1970’s was the beginning of regular radio spots on High Point’s WMFR. These featured mental health educational talks weekly, often by our very own Board members. This began the culmination of a relationship with radio announcer, Max Meeks, who in 1982 began hosting our long-running fundraiser on the radio, the “Holiday Auction,” in which Board members and HP MHA supporters and/or local businesses donated holiday-related items—mostly meals and desserts—to be auctioned. As radio airtime was cut back over the years, the weekly educational spots eventually came to an end, as did the Holiday Auction in 2008. (Board members came up with a new annual fundraiser, the Yellow Bandana Evening, which began seamlessly in the summer of 2009 and has occurred each August since.)
During the first three decades of High Point MHA’s existence--while it was affiliated with the Mental Health Association of North Carolina--it was typical for Board members to serve as delegates to the State Annual Meeting each year and to attend other legislative or educational forums around the state. We realize that these members were serving in a volunteer capacity and are grateful for the amount of time they invested during the workday and after work to attend these events in the name of bettering the mental health services in greater High Point. Our formal affiliation on a state level ended in 2010 when the state MHA dissolved; however, we continued a collaborative coalition with fellow mental health associations in North Carolina. Fortunately, while under the umbrella of MHA-NC, we had been able to acquire tax-exempt status in 1984, which we reestablished independently in 2010, under our new name, Mental Health Associates of the Triad.
Another early affiliation—remaining strong and on which we depend greatly—was the 1971 relationship established with the United Way of Greater High Point. Being a United Way agency has given us validation in the community and provides a large portion of our non- Fee-for-Service funding.
The local AMBUCS chapter was another organization that was generous in serving our clientele in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, when our services were more aligned with their mission. As we were attempting to advocate and reach out on behalf of the mentally ill population in the greater High Point community, including local residents who were in the state mental hospital in Raleigh, we began having an annual picnic at City Lake Park in east High Point; we even had the High Point residents bussed to town from the Raleigh hospital for that annual event. There was often a keynote speaker who advocated and educated those in attendance. The local AMBUCS group was instrumental in making that event happen because of its generous donation of most—if not all—of the food for those picnics. We continued this event, made possible by the AMBUCS, throughout the 1980’s.
We also drew the interest and support of the local Altrusa Club (a service organization for women which no longer has a local chapter) in the early 1980’s. The Altrusans were very generous in supporting us financially, including us in their budget and seating one of their members on our Board. The first member to join our Board was Ellen Whitlock, in 1981; Ellen went on to become our third Executive Director in 1983, staying with us until 1995.
While mentioning Executive Directors, it is not clear when Anne Thomas left the agency, but the second part-time Executive Director was Christine J. Myatt, who was brought on in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s and left in 1983. Following Ellen Whitlock, the fourth Executive Director was then-Way-In Director, Renee Martucci, hired in 1993 for Way-In, promoted in 1995 to the Executive Director position which was now a full-time post, and who handed over the reins in 1998 to current Executive Director, Ellen Cochran, now completing her twentieth year at the helm.
From the 1980’s to the mid-2010’s, MHA maintained several drop-in support groups free to the public. The purposes were varied, such as for the mentally ill adult, for families who had a mentally ill member, for survivors of a suicidal family member, for those specifically with schizophrenia, and so on. These were facilitated by a licensed professional from the Guilford County Mental Health, from the community, or on staff at MHA. Attendance began to drop off for these groups, which often met in the evening, and provision of these groups ended, with the hope that persons were getting their needs met through other resources in the community such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or MHA- Greensboro, both of whom continue to provide several support group options.
Some new, money-making opportunities for the Way-In clients which came along in the late 1990’s were an opportunity to fold towels in the laundry department of the High Point Regional Hospital, hosting a snack bar at the semi-annual international furniture markets, and the chance to gain pre-vocational skills with our own home furnishings discount store, which shared space initially with Habitat for Humanity’s thrift store on English Road. Board member Martha Stewart initiated the store concept, acquiring donations or low-cost furnishings and accessories from vendors who participated in the semi-annual international furniture market, which takes place in downtown High Point. Clients assisted with transporting and labelling inventory for sale, developing prevocational skills, and the store opened for business in September of 1999. It saw huge success, especially with interior designers who often drove from out of town—some from out of state--to this “hidden gem” to get bargains. The store hired a part-time data entry person in 2000 and hired a full-time manager in 2001 when the entire MHA agency purchased and moved to an even bigger building, its current location, at 910 Mill Avenue. This building purchase, incidentally, was not possible without the generous in-kind donation of the seller, Mr. Dave Phillips. There was also the opportunity to purchase a small bus for the agency in 2001, made possible largely by the Millis Foundation, and also by the High Point Community Foundation and a Guilford County grant.
The agency now had three floors of offices and meeting space, complete with a kitchen and dining room. Way-In continued meeting for two hours a day, but MHA was able to expand its services and took over the psychosocial rehabilitation contract from the County in early 2002, beginning the day program called Destiny House.
The agency added programs such as Supported Employment and Community Support Services and even expanded its Destiny House and Supported Employment into a Greensboro location between 2004 and 2006, funded by several grants (Bryan Foundation, Cemala Foundation, Kate B. Reynolds Foundation, Moses Cone Foundation). Our ability to get the psychosocial rehabilitation program nationally accredited in 2008 by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) earned for us a vote of confidence in the use and deliverance of those services.
Eventually the structure of mental health services, of funding in North Carolina, and of America’s financial recession caused us to shut down the SE and CS programs, but in 2009 we hired our first Clinical Director, Dr. Kim Soban, and began Outpatient Services, which included individual therapy and—in 2015—Court Services to the mentally ill, then—in 2016—Court Services to those with substance abuse disorders. We were also able to maintain a small therapy office in a satellite branch in Greensboro for Outpatient Therapy.
The first few decades of our existence saw our Board members taking on a huge role of advocacy and education in the community, even advocating—collaboratively with the mental health wing of Guilford County—to get two psychiatric beds placed in the High Point hospital; they wrote articles for the newspaper; canvassed churches, businesses and restaurants; went to State and National MHA conventions; lobbied the County, State and Federal governments; advocated for and established group homes for the mentally ill in High Point; gave weekly radio talks; hosted multiple speakers; organized forums for pastors; held Depression Screening Days...much of their work was done hand-in-hand with the Guilford County psychiatric doctors and nurses, some of whom sat on our Board as Ex-Officio members regularly up until the 1990’s. We had several Board members who were active at the State level and who were sometimes honored at the State MHA Annual Meetings with the McFarland-Edgerton Award for their outstanding service. Our archives—which are incomplete—list some of those award winners as Board members Lola Stanley (1975), Barbara Geddie (1986) and Martha Stewart (2001); Executive Directors Ellen Whitlock (1986) and Ellen Cochran (2002) both won the J.B. Spillman Award as Outstanding Executive Director of the Year. In fact, our agency won Outstanding Chapter in the State in 1990. Several churches provided regular meeting spaces for our Board and other committees, especially Wesley Memorial Methodist and St. Mary’s Episcopal.