Working behind the scenes and on the front lines of a social movement gaining steam in Yamhill County, the Newberg-based Community Wellness Collective is establishing itself as a go-to resource for community members to get much-needed help. Through its efforts, the collective has brought together many of the largest providers in Newberg and Yamhill County at large, making it easier for residents to access mental and physical health, housing, food and transportation services.
Elise Yarnell-Hollamon and Kristen Stoller met in 2018 and instantly recognized their shared passion for issues of mental health and social wellness. Yarnell is the senior manager of clinic operations at Providence Medical Group, while Stoller is the owner and instructor at Chehalem Dance Academy.
"We come from different perspectives," said Yarnell-Hollamon, who is also a Newberg city councilor. "Kristen is a community member, business owner and mom with really strong ties in the community. I was relatively new to this community (in 2018) and working at Providence, and I had been engaged with the high school in issues of suicide prevention for students."
The organization began as a forum for people and community organizations to discuss issues of wellness facing people in Newberg, Dundee and throughout the county. Subjects included mental health, addiction and social wellness, among other discussion points.
As the group began to grow and receive backing from local entities, it began partnering with various stakeholders in the community to expand its reach. That resulted in more access to mental health and other wellness services for people in local schools and churches, among other places.
"The services have always existed in the county, but now they are reaching people in areas that they've identified as their safe spaces," Yarnell-Hollamon said. "Whether it's in school or at church, this gives them what they need at a place they'd already be going. I think this could inspire other organizations in the community to do the same thing and that would be really beneficial."
Chief among the collective's work is a dedicated wellness center at Newberg High School, which has resources in place for students in need of food, housing or transportation assistance along with mental healthcare. Sparked by the school district's renewed focus on mental health and suicide prevention, the wellness center provides free therapy services for students throughout the week, connections to local mental health providers and a litany of other essential services students might need.
This effort was launched by a sizeable grant from the Austin Family Foundation to increase the district's ability to hire mental health professionals. Services in the wellness center extend beyond mental health, but the issue remains its primary focus.
The Austins also funded a mental health panel organized by the collective in its early stages, which found that plenty of services exist in Yamhill County with minimal gaps. The inherent issue – according to the 2018 panel – was a lack of communication between the various entities providing these services.
That is why the Wellness Collective stepped up and brought all providers to the table – the county, Lutheran Community Services, Providence and others – in order to find out the best path forward.
"We found there were a few challenges with ending the stigma around accessing mental health resources," Stoller said. "In the outreach that we did, we found that the monthly gatherings would be one way to reach the community and we'd also put together a resource guide for county residents to find out what is available to them.
"Now we're all collaborating rather than competing. The last couple years have really rejuvenated my love for this community because of its response to the need in mental health specifically."
From its March 2019 opening until now, the wellness center at NHS has assisted more than 1,200 students, Yarnell-Hollamon said. There were 97 therapy visits by students in January alone, an indication that the services are serving an important purpose.
The same could be said about the Wellness Collective as a whole – a budding, local institution that is actively addressing the issue of mental health. The collective is also finding ways to assist people in Newberg and around this corner of Northwest Oregon with other wellness issues that might otherwise go unaddressed.
Keeping people informed of the services available to them – while providing some of their own – is the collective's mission and one that Stoller and Yarnell-Hollamon are proud to say they're succeeding at so far.
"The community itself cares so deeply about providing solutions for their fellow community members, but it took the right people in the right place for this to move forward quickly," Stoller said. "The school district was very key in opening the doors for the collaboration, along with our friends at Providence and George Fox. It's been a communitywide effort to address these issues.
"Everyone is around the table, everyone is sharing resources and very few people are duplicating. We are looking how we can coordinate our efforts to put expanded resources toward mental health instead of everyone trying to do their own thing."
Those who want to get involved with the Community Wellness Collective or are interested in access to any of the services mentioned can visit www.communitywellnesscollective.org.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.