Century-Old Community Organization Beefing Up Mental Health Services in Black Communities

Since 1919, Ada S. McKinley Community Services has supported Black communities and they’re investing even more resources into mental health

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For 104 years, Ada S. McKinley Community Services has supported Black families and its mission is expanding to further boost mental health resources.

“We're excited about this reset we're doing with behavioral health. And it's because the issues we had, the community had, 100 years ago are still there,” said Nestor Flores, vice president of behavioral health and clinical services.

Founded by Ada S. McKinley, a school teacher, in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic, the community organization has continuously helped families for more than 100 years, now through the coronavirus pandemic.

McKinley started the agency to support Black World War I veterans and their families migrating from the south.

“She founded the South Side settlement house, which was the first settlement house on the south side of Chicago. And within that, the reason why that came about with the settlement house, is she was addressing a need as far as the World War I veterans that were coming back, they had those mental awareness needs that they needed and other resources that they needed that their white counterparts were provided, but they were not,” said Alici McNeal, vice president of community day services.

Even decades later, many of those same basic needs remain.

“Anytime you see violence, poverty, it's based on trauma. There's trauma in the family, trauma in that community. And so this program in particular is going to allow us more resources to provide the support that they need,” Flores said.

Named a care coordinator for the Illinois’ Pathway to Success program, the agency is looking to hire more mental health professionals to help kids and their families.

“We're looking for people who are invested in the community,” Flores said. “You could throw a lot of money into programs, but if you're not doing the work in the trenches, case by case, you won't see outcomes. So we're really excited about what this is going to do.”

When fights over access to social media escalated between Latosha Jones and her 13-year-old daughter, her daughter’s school recommended Ada S. McKinley Community Services for counseling.

“I was like, No, I'm not doing it. I'm not doing it. I don't need help, you know, and I was wrong. Very wrong. I actually love therapy,” Jones said.

The mother and daughter are much closer now after completing the program.

“Her attitude. My attitude. We were not both listening to each other at all. And that's all it was -- communication,” Jones said.

“This is a need that we have seen well over many years we have been doing this, so this has been a push that we have identified – the youth in crisis,” McNeal said.

“People in these communities that are marginalized deserve the same level of constant care, same professionalism that any other community or level of society or privilege, and that's what we intend to provide,” Flores said.

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