More than mental health: Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being provides community services

More than mental health: Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being provides community services

Community members take classes in the community kitchen at the Dahlia campus. (Photo by Chris Schneider Photography)

Community members take classes in the community kitchen at the Dahlia campus. (Photo by Chris Schneider Photography)

An urban garden with an aquaponics greenhouse, a dental office, and a preschool probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when most people think about mental health centers. But a new campus operated by Mental Health Center of Denver brings all of these things and more together in an effort to serve the community and engage with clients and would-be clients on a more holistic level.

Mental Health Center of Denver celebrated the opening of its Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being in February. The campus, which received a $50,000 grant from the Boettcher Foundation, has become a model for community-centered mental health services.

When Mental Health Center of Denver leaders decided to build a new site, they looked at the zip codes from which they were drawing clients. They realized that many clients were coming from northeast Denver, requiring a cross-town trip to any of the organization’s existing sites.

When they selected northeast Denver, the group honed in on a site in a neighborhood that lacked many basic services. It was an area where, historically, developers promised new community facilities that never came to fruition.

As such, Mental Health Center of Denver saw an opportunity, not only to bring their services to an area of need, but to provide services and outreach well-beyond their traditional focus.

“We truly set out to meet the needs of the community,” said Ric Durity, vice president of development at the Mental Health Center of Denver. “We engaged in a dialogue with the community to determine what they needed.”

In addition to door-to-door canvassing to meet with neighbors in the surrounding area, Mental Health Center of Denver staff held regular community meetings to learn about their needs.

Joshua Pruyn points out outdoor spaces at the campus.

Joshua Pruyn shows some of the outdoor spaces at the campus.

That sort of community input resulted in the multi-use center now known as Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being. Located on a four-acre site at 35th Avenue and Dahlia Street in northeast Denver, the campus features 46,000 square feet of indoor space, including traditional clinical space, a preschool, dental clinic, classrooms, community meeting space, a demonstration kitchen, and recreation facilities. Outdoor components include play areas, therapy gardens and an urban farm with an aquaponics greenhouse where vegetables and fish are raised in a closed system.

While Mental Health Center of Denver staff offer many of the services provided on the campus, they have partnered with other service providers, including Kids in Need of Dentistry (known as KIND) and the Sewall Child Development Center, which operates the on-site preschool.

The urban farm and aquaponics garden were a direct response to the community’s need for access to fresh food – something that came up repeatedly during community meetings. Other offerings include yoga and tai chi, cooking classes, and other programs that are offered free to the community.

“What’s inspiring is when you see the essence and diversity of the community represented here,” Ric said.

The campus has become a national model, and Mental Health Center of Denver staff regularly conduct tours and speak about the site to other mental health providers who are interested in better integrating their centers into the community. Recently, they provided a webinar to the National Council for Behavioral Health.

By integrating so seamlessly with the community and offering ancillary services, the campus helps to reduce the stigma around mental health treatment while providing a welcoming presence.

Joshua Pruyn, former development officer for Mental Health Center of Denver, recalled a recent incident when the staff was leaving at the end of the day, and a woman arrived at the campus following a domestic dispute.  Though it was after hours, the staff stayed to care for the woman.

Seedlings for the community garden take root in the greenhouse.“She didn’t want to talk about mental health, but she came here because she knew it was a safe place. She later ended up signing up for an appointment,” he said.

The Boettcher Foundation was proud to provide capital funding for this project, not only because of the positive work Mental Health Center of Denver does, but because it represents the type of innovative thinking and the community partnerships and engagement that we seek to encourage.

Community members who live near the site and contributed their ideas to its development have welcomed the campus with open arms.

“I’m really proud to be associated with [Dahlia Campus],” said area resident Maya Wheeler. “When I hear people in the community talk about it, they talk about it like they are so proud, like ‘I had input in this place, I did this and that.’ I’m just proud. I was a part of it, too.”

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