January 27, 2021

Connecting the community

Connections Peer Support Drop-In Center launches in Newton

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A peer drop-in center is not only a place for people diagnosed with chronic mental illnesses to feel wanted, welcomed and safe, it can also be the first step to coping and self-managing their behavioral health, staff of the newly opened Connections Peer Support Drop-in Center said.

Set up in Capstone Behavior Healthcare’s former building along the 300 block of North Third Avenue East (which has since moved into the old Newton Manufacturing office building at 1123 First Ave. E.), Connections opened its doors for the first time Tuesday to showcase the possibilities of the 3,800-square-foot facility.

Staff described a peer drop-in center as a place where people can get support from others who have a lived experience with mental illness. The peer supports at Connections have been in recovery for at least one year and want to help people.

Connections will be under the umbrella of Capstone Behavioral Healthcare and is funded by Central Iowa Community Services (CICS). Julie Smith, center director of Capstone Behavioral Healthcare in Newton, is excited that people will have a place to go to access other resources.

Connections will also host a variety of mental health groups and therapy exercises. Smith said the idea of developing a peer drop-in center in Jasper County has been in the works for some time. Currently, Capstone Behavioral Healthcare has a peer drop-in center in Grinnell, which has been operating for a few years.

Both Smith and Jody Eaton, CEO of CICS, have high aspirations for Connections and cementing its place in the community. Smith said the region and entities like CICS and Jasper County Cares Coalition are doing good things for mental health.

“There are a lot of people that always say that Jasper County doesn’t have any services, and I think they just don’t know or aren’t aware of what services we have,” she said.

Co-directors Racheal Cupples and Kelly Zach are taking charge of the drop-in center, along with their three peer supports, to get individuals on the right track; whether that means helping them fill out job applications, find housing or develop positive coping strategies.

"I feel like the best way to lead somebody is with love, direction and understanding. I don't want anyone to ever feel judged when they come in here for where they have been yesterday — they're welcome here today," Cupples said.

Although the center is not entirely finished at the moment, staff has mapped out and begun preparations for various rooms for games, crafts and relaxation. Cupples said she is excited to mold the facility into “something really great,” but she knows that will take time.

Zach, who previously worked at the Salvation Army in Newton, sees Connections as a blank canvas waiting for its first coats of paint. She has hope for what’s to come, noting Connections will apply for grants and funding opportunities to keep the center thriving. The possibilities are endless.

“I want people to be able to come in here and make their own community, make friendships, do what they need to do and know that they’re safe here,” Zach said. “We’re going to meet them where they’re at that day … We’re going to be able to make (Connections) what we want it to be: a safe place.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com