Mental-illness group coping with cuts

Susie Deter
Susie Deter

Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — For his project as an Eagle Scout candidate, Wood Morgan, a rising 9th-grader at Durham Academy, plans to develop and cultivate a garden for Threshold, a nonprofit that serves people with severe mental illness.

Threshold, which is working to help offset $120,000 in funds it lost through government spending cuts and changes in eligibility rules, hopes to generate modest revenue from selling garden produce and flowers at the Durham Farmers’ Market and to local florists and restaurants.

It also will use some of the produce for meals it prepares for members who participate in its structured-day program, and display some of the flowers to brighten its Clubhouse.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Threshold operates with an annual budget of roughly $1 million and serves about 60 members a day on average, or about 170 a year.

But with recent data showing over 3,000 adults in Durham County with severe mental illness, the agency is finding it tough to meet demand for services.

Medicaid reimbursements, which account for roughly two-thirds of the agency’s budget, for example, are down.

“We don’t have funding to handle the demand,” says Susie Deter, the group’s executive director. “The population of people with severe and persistent mental illness has been hammered.”

With a staff of 13 employees working full-time and one working part-time, Threshold offers day-long rehabilitation services in its Clubhouse, as well as programs in the areas of employment, education and social recreation.

Threshold’s employment program is designed to help members make the transition to work by finding them entry-level jobs where they can gain the skills and confidence they need for long-term employment.

And for members who may be ready to work, Threshold helps them find jobs and get any on-the-job training or support they may need.

Threshold also offers twice-weekly courses equivalent to those offered in high school, as well as computer and literacy classes.

And through events at its Clubhouse and in the community, the agency helps members hone their social skills.

Threshold is working to increase to 15 percent, from about 8 percent to 10 percent in recent years, the share of its annual budget provided through fundraising from individuals, foundations and corporations.

That effort will include a reception and silent auction on Oct. 21 at Pop’s restaurant, and a community pig-pickin’ two days later.

And Threshold’s new garden, to be developed on a half-acre behind its building now cluttered with shrubs, trees and debris, should generate some revenue, while providing a place that will provide an additional opportunity for members to work during the day, says Irene Dwinnell, the group’s development director.

Dwinnell, who will work with Morgan to raise roughly $5,000 to $7,000 to develop the garden, says 9th Street Flowers and Mad Hatter Bake Shop already have signed on to purchase flowers and produce.

“My goal,” she says, “is for members, in little different ways, to feel like they have a direct impact on the development and fundraising for Threshold.”

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