8th Annual Nehemiah Action

Crowd      Fr GregoryCrowdShawayne Berry

The content of this post is taken from the Daily Progress coverage of the Nehemiah Action.

Maybe they aren’t changing the world, but a yearlong effort by members of a local interfaith and cross-denomination organization is changing Central Virginia.

Efforts by the Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together — IMPACT — led to Region Ten plans to double the number of hours available for children’s mental health; more funding of homeless prevention programs; better communication and cohesion among homeless service providers; and an effort by the University of Virginia Health System to train local youth for entry-level medical positions.

A thousand or more community faithful from Christian, Jewish and Islamic congregations met Monday evening at John Paul Jones Arena for the eighth annual Nehemiah Action assembly to hear from agencies tasked with implementing the organization’s goals.

The goals were set at an October meeting of the organization.

“Our primary motive is faith, not civic duty,” said Bob Bayer, of Westminster Presbyterian Church and IMPACT’s co-president. “We are not a political movement, although we acknowledge that there is a political component to almost of the injustices we hope to address.”

The assembly was called to report the results of IMPACT’s efforts at addressing social and economic injustice, from unemployment among youth to the lack of mental health care for youth. Members of the organization met to discuss proposals and spent the past six months, and longer in some cases, working with local officials.

IMPACT committee members reported strides made in serving the region’s homeless families and in preventing those with emergency needs from becoming homeless. They noted that the organization’s efforts helped bring service providers together and make an additional $250,000 available via grants.

Perhaps the big win was a commitment by Region Ten, the agency that provides mental health services for Central Virginia, to hire a part-time child psychiatrist and expand the number of treatment hours available.

IMPACT officials noted that Region Ten, funded by state money and Medicaid, had only enough child psychiatrists and psychologists available to provide 15 hours a week, from 9 a.m. to noon Fridays. That left hundreds of children without care.

“For a community with the abundance of resources this community has, this patched together program is not enough,” said Sheila Herlihy, of Church of the Incarnation Catholic Church, who served on the group’s mental health committee.

Robert Johnson, executive director of Region Ten, said he and his staff agreed.

“We believe we have developed a plan, a basic strategy to expand telepsychiatric contacts and secure a part-time child psychiatrist, which would bring us to 40 hours a week of service,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Region Ten had found grants and money available to expand telepsychiatry into Nelson and Greene counties as well as hire the part-timer.

Although the televised service should be available in both counties by the end of the year, finding a part-time psychiatrist will be more difficult, he said. He expects someone to be hired by next summer.

Impact committee members studying youth employment had asked UVa Health System to start a pilot program of tuition waivers for 30 students to train in entry-level medical positions. They estimated the cost to be $90,000.

UVa officials agreed to look into grants that would create a similar program with other funding coming from local organizations and “stakeholders.” They stopped short of promising a unilaterally funded program should the grants fail or stakeholders not be found.

The agencies agreed to report back to Impact at the organization’s October assembly.