Independence Center

Independence Center, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping adults experiencing mental illness, handed out more than 150 free smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks and hot spots to its members thanks to a $94,009 grant from the St. Louis County CARES COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Fund.

The devices will help ensure Center members have access to telehealth appointments and virtual group meetings due to the coronavirus.

Gavin McGrath, a rehabilitation specialist, said through the grant and a partnership with Sprint/T-Mobile, they are also providing six-months of free service for each device. Each tablet and smartphone has been programmed by Independence Center staff members so people can gain access to virtual health services and easily find the applications they need. McGrath said in the past, these devices may have been a nice convenience for members, but now, they are a medical necessity.

“With everything going on in the midst of a global pandemic, we have seen one of the biggest changes in how we supply services for those experiencing mental illness ever,” McGrath said.

“The core of our model is that we work side-by-side with people to help them gain independence and confidence, and in order to do that, we now have to be able to connect to them virtually.

“If someone doesn’t have technology and they are isolating at home, that can be a huge problem for their mental health so having a virtual connection is really essential right now,” McGrath said.

Independence Center’s Clubhouse plays an integral role in its members’ mental health recovery by helping people regain the confidence lost by the stigma of mental illness. More than 180 members normally come to the Clubhouse each day to set goals, learn life skills, improve their health and interact with other people.

McGrath said when the pandemic started, 99% of its members lived below the poverty line; many did not have access to a phone, computer or internet and had no means to access telehealth services.

Over the last seven months, the Center adapted its “Work-Ordered Day Program” to function virtually and started working to ensure all members could connect virtually.

Independence Center member Diane Cleaves

Independence Center member Diane Cleaves uses the tablet computer she received, thanks to the CARES grant.

Thanks in part to the grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, Independence Center has conducted more than 11,000 telehealth appointments spanning all programs.

Dianne Cleaves, an Independence Center member who has been quarantining since the pandemic began, said after the Center gave her a tablet, she started taking online classes and is preparing to take her high school equivalency test.

“This is a big accomplishment for me. I’m doing something for myself and I’m proud of myself,” Cleaves said.

“Right now, because I can’t go anywhere, I needed to find something else to do because I miss my friends and the staff at Independence Center. It’s been very hard on me. I really appreciate the technology Independence Center is giving me. It keeps me busy and makes me feel productive,” she said.

Independence Center is a community-based rehabilitation program for adults with mental illness in the St. Louis area, built on the Clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation. Its mission is to provide all the services and resources a person with a serious and persistent mental illness needs to manage their symptoms, find belonging and purpose and gain the independence to live a healthy, quality life. For more information about Independence Center, or to learn more about their services, go to www.independencecenter.org.

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