New $156,000 grant to boost mental health services in Mercer County

Local News

The Quad Cities Community Foundation Monday announced a $156,000 grant to support mental health services in Mercer County.

The Mercer County Health Department’s Mental Health Action Program (MHAP) will benefit from a new $156,000 grant from the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation, a private foundation administered by the Quad Cities Community Foundation.

MHAP will be able to further its school-based mental health case management services in Mercer County and Sherrard School Districts, with the grant — awarded over three years, which will partially fund salaries for two mental health case managers in the school districts.

“We’ve worked very hard to establish the right staffing model to meet our schools’ needs, and this funding is key to ensuring that we can keep working with students and school staff,” said Jennifer Hamerlinck, RN, the health department’s supervisor of health promotions. “Right now, the program is fully sustainable until 2024, and that is absolutely thanks, in large part, to the Looser-Flake Foundation.”

The grant is the second made this year by the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation to support the Mercer County Better Together Action Plan’s education goals. Earlier this month, it announced a $185,000 grant to fund educational technology initiatives in Mercer County and Sherrard School Districts. Furthering educational opportunities is a key facet of the Looser-Flake Foundation’s mission, with previous funding helping to launch summer learning programs and endow scholarships for Mercer County students, according to a Monday release from the Quad Cities Community Foundation.

Kelly Thompson is vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives at Quad Cities Community Foundation.

“Not just in 2021 but over the last several years, the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation has made a range of incredible investments in education,” said Kelly Thompson, vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives at the Quad Cities Community Foundation. “By supporting students’ health and well-being, this grant is supporting their ability to fully engage in getting a great education.”

According to Hamerlinck, expanding mental health services in rural areas like Mercer is especially important.

She explained that Mercer County is considered a health-professional shortage area, with only one mental health provider for every 7,800 residents, drastically lower than state and federal levels. “That means there’s a large proportion of children who have mental health problems and are in need of care but who don’t have resources,” she said.

An evidence-based model, MHAP aims to reduce barriers to mental health care first and foremost by connecting students as well as staff to mental health providers.

“After that, we work on back-end barrier reduction, focusing on the social and environmental determinants of health that have made them not prioritize their mental health,” Hamerlinck said in the release. “So we address transportation, insurance, food and housing insecurities, access to pharmaceuticals, employment, financial distress—helping them take those things off their worry list so they can worry about taking care of their mental and emotional well-being. It’s a long-term, hands-on strategy, but it’s proven very successful.”

One MHAP initiative that will benefit from continued financial support is Signs of Suicide, a prevention program offering both classroom education on depression and suicide as well as screening to identify at-risk students. To date, Signs of Suicide has screened over 1,100 students. Through MHAP, students also learn about coping and resilience, building problem-solving skills early on that will serve them throughout their school years and beyond.

“I’ve been active with Mercer County Better Together and its work to identify and work towards the priorities of Mercer County residents, and I feel strongly that the intent of this funding is in line with what people in Mercer County care about, what they hope for in our community,” said Hamerlinck. “We’re trying to impact our students so they can be successful academically and in a work situation later. We’re building strong communities that way.”

The Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation was started in 2013 to serve charitable causes in Mercer County. Dorothy Looser-Flake and Roberta Looser were sisters who were born and raised on a family farm near New Boston Township, Ill. Both elementary school teachers in local school districts, they cared deeply about the community that gave them so much growing up and left a portion of their estates to establish the charitable foundation to support the region.

Between 2015 and 2017, the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation awarded more than half a million dollars to advance economic development and improve education in Mercer County. For more information, visit the foundation website.

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