Free mental health services center hosting mental health fair |

Free mental health services center hosting mental health fair

Assistant Director Janella Kirkman chats with a peer Saturday afternoon at the SPIRIT Peer Empowerment Center in Grass Valley. The SPIRIT center, which is a nonprofit free, health-based center open to anyone facing mental health challenges, has recently opted to focus more on getting participants actively involved at the center — and they are seeing positive results.
John Hart/ | The Union

Know & Go

What: Mental Health Awareness Fair

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 18

Where: SPIRIT Peer Empowerment Center, 276 Gates Place, Grass Valley

Info: 530-274-1431 or visit

The SPIRIT Peer Empowerment Center, which is a nonprofit free, health-based center open to anyone facing mental health challenges, has recently opted to focus more on getting participants actively involved at the center — and they are seeing positive results.

“For a while we were inundated with people showing up simply looking for basic needs, like food and a shower because there are gaps in homeless services during the day,” said executive director Barbara Lindsay Burns. “But now we’re back in line with our mission and it’s making a difference. We’re seeing more of a commitment from participants.”

Situated in a large home on five acres, trained peer “supporters” at the free self-help center offer acceptance, supportive conversation and education to anyone who walks through the door. But recently there has been a new emphasis among staff to get participants more actively engaged in their own path to recovery. All services are free, confidential and open to the public.

“We are the place where people with mental health challenges can come to be open and honest,” said outreach and development coordinator Lorraine Stowe. “But we want participants to get involved on a regular basis. We want to give hope to those who don’t see a future for themselves — I tell people, if I can make it, you can too.”

The key to getting people involved is to “meet them where they are,” said peer supporter Janella Kirkman, who just finished an 80-hour peer support certification.

“The services here are designed to get you on your path in a positive way, no matter where that is.”

Participants are encouraged to attend regular classes, such as a beginning computer course.

“We teach this class as if a person has never used a computer, because many haven’t,” said Stowe. “They learn what a computer is, then learn to use a mouse and eventually set up an email address and develop a résumé. Many career centers assume you know how to use a computer, and even places like McDonald’s and Kmart require you to go online to apply.”

Another new course just added to the schedule is “How to Eat from the Food Bank,” which shows participants how to make the best out of what they get, for example the difference ways to cook beans, and to buy food with food stamps only after they see what they are able to get at the food bank.

“We also teach a life skills class, which can include hygiene, filling out a job application and learning how to dress,” said Kirkman. “Many people have a hard time walking into a job interview for the first time.”

Those who come to the center for basic services are also encouraged to take advantage of the support groups available, such as training for new volunteers, peer counseling aka “supporting,” a garden project, bipolar support, dual diagnosis groups and a depression and anxiety support group.

These can help fill the gaps between therapy appointments, said Stowe, which are often only once a month for those unable to pay out of pocket.

Although a range of mental health agencies routinely refer people to the center, Stowe says they are taking steps to increase collaborative relationships with even more organizations.

On April 18, the SPIRIT Peer Empowerment Center, is hosting a Mental Health Awareness Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the grounds outside the center. The goal is to destigmatize mental illness and instead focus on mental health.

“We will be bringing together multiple local resources and agencies with the goal of better serving this community,” said Stowe. “We want to become the hub for mental health services. We encourage anyone who would like to participate to contact us. We hope a lot of people who have never been here will come to find out more.”

“This place gave me direction and I learned that everyone has something to give,” said Kirkman. “We want to reach out to those homeless people in the park who think no one cares. Many have been labeled and shot down so many times they think no one believes in them. Well, we believe in them. I’m determined to show up with love, no matter what.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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