The Connection celebrated its 10-year anniversary at a special member meeting held Jan. 13 via Zoom, which featured more than a dozen guest speakers who shared stories about organization’s early history and the many initiatives that have made an impact to improve our community’s mental health system of care.

A highlight of our collaborative work is the behind-the-scenes support of The Connection’s founding sponsors, Ascension Wisconsin and ThedaCare health systems. Together, the health systems have contributed more than $1,250,000 in in-kind and direct funding in the last decade to support mental wellness and improve our community’s mental health system of care.

“It’s been amazing to look back and reflect on all the work that has been done to improve the mental health of our community,” said Beth Clay, Executive Director of The Connection. “We still have our work cut out for us, but we have so much to be proud of.”

Some highlights include:
● The Primary Care Physician Training Program which ran from 2013 to 2016 and trained more than 200 providers in our local health systems, relieving the demand for psychiatry and keeping people off waitlists.
● The development, a one-stop LOCAL mental health service navigation website, featuring detailed information on ALL mental health service providers and supports in our region.
● Provided training in Results Based Accountability (RBA) to 87 local agencies working on wicked social problems, like mental illness, substance use, homelessness, and poverty to move our community towards shared measurement and aligned activity for broad impact
● The implementation of Sources of Strength, an evidence-based suicide prevention and wellness program, at 22 middle and high schools across the region over the past five years.
● A redesign of how law enforcement responds to 911 calls involving mental health crises. Through collaborative planning and development, the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office now employs a behavioral health officer, and the Appleton Police Department has hired a crisis therapist who responds with police to mental health-related crisis calls.

The Connection was created based on findings from the United Way Fox Cities’ LIFE Study, a ThedaCare Plunge, and a Mental Health Summit in 2011. Each shone the light on a fragmented, underfunded mental healthcare system plagued by long waiting lists, a shortage of providers and other obstacles to accessing care.

For ten years now, The Connection, with support of its member agencies, has worked to address long term changes in the system while also providing immediate solutions where possible. As a “backbone” agency, The Connection’s mission is to lead a coalition of diverse stakeholders to champion mental health for everyone in the Fox Valley by addressing barriers, challenging systems, creating solutions, and prioritizing care and support.

Clay, who took over as the agency’s second executive director in 2015, said she is also proud that The Connection’s membership has grown to a list of more than 80 agencies and organizations.

“Our work moves at the speed of trust and the amount of time that has been invested in relationships is immeasurable and invaluable,” Clay said. “That’s how we get this work done – by coming out of our silos and coming together as a community with a common vision and agreed-upon strategies that will have measurable impact.”