May is mental health awareness month. Why should you care? Because 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness this year. If you have more than five people in your circle of family and friends, that means you’ll likely know someone coping with mental health challenges (whether they choose to reveal it or not).
At North Coast Community Homes (NCCH) we have an additional stake. In Summit County we serve over 120 people who have severe mental illness. NCCH, the other residents, and our staff become a second family for many of those tenants. It’s no surprise, since NCCH is anything but your typical “landlord.” It’s what drew Janice Stahl to work for the organization.
Stahl has worked for NCCH for the past 9 years as the Housing Services Manager for homes in Summit County. For her it was an excellent fit. She had worked previously as a case manager at Community Support Services, an agency that provides treatment, support, and advocacy for those needing behavioral health services.
“I had heard about North Coast Community Homes because some of my clients were tenants.” said Stahl
So, when the prior housing manager retired, Stahl applied and was hired by then CEO, Steve McPeake. Serving NCCH’s residents has become her passion ever since.
In her current role, Stahl doesn’t provide care, per se, but she does provide a friendly smile and a dedicated heart. That’s in addition to her duties managing the buildings, doing wellness checks, coordinating housing funding with two cities, ensuring rents are paid, supervising housekeeping and a myriad of other activities.
Yet, it’s her recognition of NCCH’s residents’ basic humanity and their dignity that stands out so powerfully. The knowledge that she’s helping people rebuild their lives and forge new connections within the community gets Stahl up in the morning. It’s her dedication to people who are often overlooked and discounted that got her nominated for an award from the Summit County Historical Society.
This year, Stahl was recognized as their 2018 Woman of the Year for Inspiration. Stahl believes it’s in larger part for her work at NCCH and also for her work at Isabella’s Closet. Where NCCH provides a home for people with severe and persistent mental illness, Isabella’s Closet provides some of the furnishings. Both are important for someone who might be transitioning from homelessness.
“Absolutely we are making a difference in people’s lives. There is no doubt about that.”
Stahl notes that for some, they’ve had bad housing experiences in the past and can be nervous about what their experience with NCCH might be like. So, Stahl works closely with the county and other support services. That nearly seamless integration is one of the things that leads to resident’s engaging in long-term housing with NCCH.
The organization also looks for creative ways to meet the special needs of resident. For example, someone coping with an episode of clinical depression or severe anxiety might find the simple act of cleaning too overwhelming for a period of days. Unfortunately, what starts out as a problem of a few days can evolve into months. In past situations, this might have resulted in the person evicted and with nowhere else to go.
North Coast Community Homes approaches things differently.
“When I got hired, before I even started Steve [McPeake] asked me what I thought we could do to improve the lives of our tenants.” Stahl recalls, “I told him housekeeping.”
McPeake heard her and secured funding to provide housekeeping services. It helps protect NCCH’s property, and as importantly, removes an obstacle to stable housing that may have been a problem in the past for tenants. The service has grown from there to also include free laundry at the properties and tenant gardening.
The NCCH team also does holiday dinners. Most of the residents are single people, but some are also single parents with children. Even in multi-unit housing, with neighbors in the next apartment, it’s easy for people to feel isolated and alone. Stahl notes that many of the residents don’t have family they can connect with. NCCH has stepped in a filled that void, so holidays that might otherwise be lonely, become a celebration that the residents plan ahead for. In fact, one of NCCH’s very own board members, Ann Klein and the Klein family, fund a Thanksgiving dinner at one of the locations where about 30 people come together to enjoy the holiday.
NCCH creates other social opportunities for the tenants as well. One that’s coming up is an outing for Summit County residents at the Akron Rubber Ducks baseball game on June 1, 2018.
“They love the event and for some of them they look forward to it for the whole year.” says Stahl. “It gives them a chance to socialize and enjoy themselves in a safe environment as part of the community.”
It’s that building of community that pervades so much of what NCCH does. It’s why the organization is good for the individuals who live in NCCH’s properties, and also why NCCH is good for the neighborhoods.
When Stahl talks to people wo don’t know about NCCH, she stresses both the individual and the community. It should go without saying that housing is incredibly important for anyone living with mental illness. Stable housing provides a foundation for engaging in treatment. So, NCCH’s housing is very important for the tenants. Stahl notes that NCCH is also good for the neighborhood because of the investment and care put into the homes.
“We’re a stable property manager. Our maintenance is impeccable. So, while we’re also helping people and improving lives, we add a lot to the community.”