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When D. Danielle Hale, Ph.D., arrived as a new employee at The Harris Center, her first assignment was facilitating a group with male inmates at The Harris County Jail that was part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Program. Nine years later, Dr. Hale’s list of responsibilities as the now-Lead Psychologist for the Adult Services Program of The Harris Center’s Mental Health Forensic Services Division has grown to include overseeing additional programs in the Jail and the supervision of a dozen employees. However, she continues to facilitate the same group she was first assigned in 2007. According to Dr. Hale, “That’s where my joy is, where my passion is.”
The CBT Program focuses on helping those who participate learn how to better handle everyday situations and choices, something many of these inmates may not get the chance to do otherwise. Housed together in one unit within the Jail, about twenty men are part of the CBT Program at any given time. They are referred to the program by The Harris Center staff providing mental health services in the Jail, Jail staff or they may self-refer. Participants may remain in the program for up to five months while in the Jail, and the ages of those in the program have ranged from 18 to over 60.
According to Dr. Hale, “These are guys who don’t get along well with others.” Many had difficult childhoods and never graduated from high school. To address this, she focuses on creating a safe, therapeutic environment that allows inmates the chance to practice socialization and problem-solving skills with one another. There are also targeted group therapy sessions available focused on substance use and wellness recovery that the inmates may participate in depending on their needs and backgrounds. While it may not happen overnight, Dr. Hale does see progress from the participants as they continue to build their skills to where they are “gaining insight into their own behavior and what got them here,” she said.
The charges pending against the inmates who participate in the CBT Program range, and they have even included capital murder. While Dr. Hale knows they are inmates charged with crimes, she also sees that they are individuals in need of help. “These people are your fathers, brothers and sons. Everybody has a family member who’s made mistakes. So many of them are so young,” she said.
For some, their time in the CBT Program truly does help make a difference. Dr. Hale occasionally gets emails and letters from former participants that let her know how much the time they spent in the program helped them as they worked to turn their lives around. Some are in school, some are working and some are successfully staying out of the criminal justice system. There are some who transitioned to a state prison, but even for them the skills they learned in the CBT Program are something they can take with them and apply in a new environment.
While Dr. Hale’s role at The Harris Center continues to evolve, she is clear in her dedication to the CBT Program and the individuals it serves. As she puts it, “You have opportunities that come and you take them or you don’t. I love doing this. I love these guys. I feel like I make a difference.”
Dancing, flu shots, turkey chili, learning how to use a fire extinguisher as well as bone density exams all in one day? That’s right, The Harris Center’s Wellness department hosted it’s 5th annual Health and Wellness Fair in which employees were able to participate in different activities as well as learn about different resources community partners and vendors had to offer.
Harris County now has a new resource to help keep people with mental illness out of the Harris County Jail. The new Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center provides law enforcement with a community-based alternative for persons with mental illness who have been picked up for low-level, non-violent offenses such as trespass. The Diversion Center celebrated its ribbon-cutting and dedication October 1, 2018 at 9 a.m.
April 6, 2017 was one of those California-weather-like days in Houston with a bright sky and breeze just right as a crowd gathered for the grand opening of the new home of the Houston Furniture Bank, a long-time partner of The Harris Center. The large new building contains an entire warehouse of furniture, a mattress recycling area, a retail outlet and the big hearts of the Houston Furniture Bank employees.
Getting to this point was no small feat. Two and a half decades of hard work, innovation and partnership have allowed the Houston Furniture Bank to serve families throughout Harris County, including quite a few consumers of The Harris Center.
The connection between the Houston Furniture Bank and The Harris Center goes back to 1992 when a housing support employee at The Harris Center, then the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA) of Harris County, saw a void in consumers’ residences. There were no beds, tables, chairs, sofas or other signs that they were actually homes. That employee, Oli Mohammed, had an idea. What if the Agency found donated furniture to turn these houses into homes? With the support of the Agency’s executive director, Dr. Steven Schnee, he began what became the MHMRA of Harris County Furniture Bank. “If Dr. Schnee didn’t see the virtue in this, the furniture bank wouldn’t exist,” said Mohammed.
The blue skies and shiny green leaves dancing to the rhythm of the friendly summer breeze were the perfect background for the many smiling faces at Bayland Park.
Kim Tope is a licensed master social worker and a certified anger resolution therapist. More pertinent to her current role at The Harris Center, Kim is also a certified peer specialist who uses her own lived experience in recovery from mental illness to help those who find themselves in need of support and treatment through a one-of-a-kind program in Texas known as The P.E.E.R.S. for Hope House.
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The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD strives to provide high quality, efficient, and cost effective services so that persons with mental disabilities may live with dignity as fully functioning, participating, and contributing members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay based on a sliding scale rate schedule.
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