by Yolanda H. Ortega
It was not by design that professionals and administrators at the state-funded Center for Health Care Services were asking: "What role does spirituality play in the recovery process for persons with mental illness?" Nor was it part of a master plan that the Board of Directors for the regional agency was asking a related question: "What processes are in place within the Center that include a faith-based direction?"
These independent mind tracts under the same umbrella led to a committee being formed with the charge of investigating the possibility of a Center faith-based initiative that would incorporate mental health, physical health and spirituality. The result is Pillars of Healing, a model program designed to involve three culturally distinct faith communities.
CHCS is one of 38 regional mental health/mental retardation authorities of State of Texas.
The Faith-based Health Initiative committee meets monthly and consists of Center board members, staff, and community stakeholders. Various outreach and educational backgrounds are represented: educators, faith leaders, mental health advocates, family members and consumers.
The goal of the initiative is to set up pilot programs at three church sites within the San Antonio, Bexar County area. Each will target a distinct faith/culture: Hispanic, African American and Evangelical. An educational component will address mental illness, its impact on physical health, and how the mind and body need to be addressed simultaneously to maximize recovery.
The committee hopes the Center's mind, body and spirit model will spread in the region, particularly among churches with beliefs and practices that are similar to the three targeted faith communities.
The Pillars staff will train people affected by mental illness to work as volunteers promoting mind and body "healing" or recovery through such activities as health screenings, physical exercise, mental health classes and support groups.
The spirituality tract will be "of and by the church" and involve mentors assigned to consumers and family members in classes and activities. The mentors will strive to integrate consumers into existing ministries by offering opportunities for consumers to become vital and visible members of the church and of the community at large.
The Center's committee is in dialogue with one church on the primarily Hispanic Westside of San Antonio, investigating the potential of the site hosting Pillars of Healing. Two meetings were held with the church council and the lead committee member has toured the projected classroom and office space. The committee awaits a final council decision.
Should the site be granted, it will become the pilot for a template for the next two sites: one in the African American Eastside community, the other at an Evangelical church in central San Antonio.