We heard about some funding available to mental health consumers in Virginia. Ann got the news from Phil Ross, President of NAMI PW. Immediately she inspired us all to meet with him and hear a little more about the program. Ann, Traci, Cynthia, Phil and Andrew met at IHOP, and it all began. The monies available were from the Commonwealth of Virginia, funneled to the CSB-Fairfax, who put the Regional Recovery Workgroup in charge, who brought Pathway Homes in as the fiscal agent of the funds. There was a lot of money available to consumer-run programs. The only drawback that was the funds had to be given out to consumer-run programs before June 30, 2007. There was to be a meeting at NVMHI on the following Thursday to get all of our questions answered. We had this meeting at IHOP on April 15, 2007.
A dream had the chance of becoming reality.
Ann had been running this support group she created with another woman more than 10 years ago. It meets Wednesday nights in Manassas, for mental health consumers to support each other and listen to each other and just be there. Cynthia started going to the group in 2003 and Traci a year later. Strong bonds were formed and friendship was easy. When we heard about the funding we knew we had to try. Support in the world is part of being human, but people with mental health concerns don't always get the support they need. Creating friendships are difficult when one is continuously focused on staying psychologically stable. Crisis can be the norm and confusion abounds when there's so much to figure out. But we had this Wednesday night group, and friendship. A strong commitment to recovery. And the perfect opportunity. We had the chance to take our group and turn it into something bigger. Something for more people. The whole community. Prince William County.
A lot of questions were answered regarding this particular grant at NVMHI. There was a one-time pool of money for mental health consumer run programs. For mental health consumers to help other mental health consumers. There must have been 30 people there all with hope and a dream. Listening, asking questions, trying to get it right. Up to this point it seemed like a whirlwind, but we soon knew the whirlwind was going to get stronger, not slow down. The grant applications had to be turned in by May 2, 2007.
We'd better get busy, we were thinking.
The three of us each had a copy of the application and Phil Ross generously offered his assistance in writing this monstrous grant. The plan was for the three of us (Ann, Traci and Cynthia) to get writing and compare notes. Phil Ross suggested we take advantage of Bob Simon's offer of his conference room at Family Teamwork. We gratefully accepted and met for the first time on Sunday, April 22 for 4 hours. So Ann was the champion (once again) and had the most comprehensively filled-out grant application. Cynthia and Traci just sort of spaced out, getting a little lost in life issues. But Ann used her nocturnal preference to her advantage and wrote and wrote and wrote some more.
When we sat down with everyone at Family Teamwork we just started covering the application piece by piece, item-by-item, making changes and additions as we saw fit. With all the help at the table it seemed to go well. It seems we met there 4 or 5 times. It's mostly a blur but Ann, Traci and Cynthia definitely became aware of a movement, a momentum, a sense of not being alone in this process. Of being led. This evidenced itself early when during the grant writing process we were talking about fiscal agent responsibilities and were confused about CPA functions and what we should do. The next day or so after that conversation at Family Teamwork, Phil Ross received an inquiry about NAMI PW by a person who was a CPA. Phil smartly invited that person to our next grant-writing session. We learned we would probably need a fiscal agent to manage our grant, since we were going to be a brand-new non-profit organization.
We almost had it. The grant was mostly finished and Phil once again stepped up to the plate on one question we were all stuck on. He graciously used his wordsmithing talents to finish up and polish up the last item. We were done with the grant. After lots of stress and meetings and more meetings and phone calls and research we had a completed grant application, 17 frantic days after officially hearing about the Regional Recovery Fund Grant. The application was submitted to Pathway Homes and the three of us began to sweat it out. Keeping our fingers crossed, hoping. We kept hearing a bunch of rumors about when we would HEAR. Every day going to the mailbox, praying to the mail gods. Cynthia had written two personal grants, too, so Ann and Cynthia were comparing notes daily, figuring out mail delivery times, and Traci calling us to check. Gosh we were sweating it.
In the meantime, we knew we needed a lawyer, a CPA, an insurance agent and an office suite. Ann had a relationship with a great lawyer so of course we would use him. We knew we wanted to be about mid-county, around Dale City, so it made the most sense for Traci to start looking for a space. Ann and Cynthia met with the lawyer to get the process started. We needed to be incorporated, so Articles of Incorporation and By-laws were first on our agenda. The lawyer referred a CPA who the three of us met with and learned a lot, but decided not to use.
Cynthia got her envelopes (with approvals!) and the three of us were meeting at Ruby Tuesdays. Traci knew Ann had gotten her letter but didn't know anything else. After about 3 minutes of waiting and chewing our fingernails, Ann finally arrived and it was a celebration! The letter approved the grant request in full. We were in business and so much more.
The whirlwind had barely begun, we discovered. They approved the grant on the condition that we would get a fiscal agent. It seemed we called and researched and talked and frantically tried to get information on getting a fiscal agent and finally Ann called Pathway Homes and they had someone in mind for us. We merely needed to be at Pathway Homes on Monday, June 6th at 11 am to finalize our contract.
To Finalize Our Contract.
And so we did. The signatures were set and the fiscal agent was found (thank you Pathway Homes) and we were on our way! We could hardly believe it! But there was much work to do.
Now we had funding for sure and Traci's very cool real estate agent of was more comfortable in helping. We had already looked at one place that wasn't right. We needed wheelchair accessibility or at the very least no stairs for those people who have difficulty walking. So they stop by this office right off of Hillendale (where we most wanted to be) and Traci was in love with this office suite! Ann and Cynthia quickly made plans to see it and it was perfect! I mean, it needed paint, but it was perfect!!
Negotiations began between the landlord and us through the real estate agent and it seemed complicated and tiring but we got what we needed and the best part is it came just under our budget for rental per month. Can you believe it?
Right about then, on June 14, we received our Incorporation through the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was official. We have an office suite, a Corporation, and money to pay for it all. PWDIC was born.
The signing of the lease was a major milestone at the end of June. Ann was negotiating with the insurance agent about the same time. The three of us were choosing paint colors that match our mission. Cynthia was gearing up to get the painting done. Traci designed the application (we had to hire people!) and Traci and Cynthia designed the help wanted sign that we plastered at the CSB's and Club. There was furniture to acquire. A lot of our furniture was purchased from our great landlord at a good price, furniture left from his company that had moved out of the office suite. We were looking for the perfect additions along the way, not having much success.
We had to visit with the lawyer again. By-laws had to be finalized and the EIN had to be gotten. We went over the by-laws and envisioned the Center and how we wanted to structure and run it. A few days later after we left the lawyer and were looking at the notes we realized we'd had our First Ever PWDIC Board Meeting with Organizational Minutes from the lawyer. How cool is that? A meeting with the fiscal agent was in the middle there somewhere, as well as a meeting with the accountant, to determine how the boring money stuff would work. The essential stuff.
Cynthia began the painting project and we were accepting many applications. The plan was to fill all the time slots. 12 hours a day: 2 shifts a day, 2 people per shifts. So we needed to fill 24 time slots. Ann and Traci had decided on the way it was going to work very early on before the grant was even written up. To take care of people on disability, we were to have people work no more than 3 shifts a week, 18 hours a week, at $8.20 an hour. Traci and Ann were each going to work 3 shifts, Cynthia is busy with 2 of her own businesses and was undecided at this point, so we needed about 5-6 more people. We began setting up the interviews, 2 a night for as long as it took.
We met with the CSB in early August to begin a strong bond that will help both organizations. Ann, Cynthia, Phil, Shawn,
and Angela met with Tom Gieb, Rita Romano and Linda Pemberton at that first meeting. We tested the waters and talked
about visions and updated them about our progress.
We began interviewing and were finding great people. Most of the decisions were easy. A few we weren't sure about, but
we were always simpatico. The way it worked all the way through this process.
It took us a couple of weeks but we finally made the call. "We would be starting at the end of August and we'd like you to be our Facilitator." How cool is that?
But first we had to finish the painting and get an Occupancy Permit. Ann quickly found our first small stumbling block called Building Codes. She was immediately taken down the wrong path by that stinky government worker and was talked into being zoned as an Adult Day Care Center. Well she found out that we would need original plans for not just our office suite but the whole condo complex and an architect had to take a look at our office and come up with something. Gosh so complicated. And overwhelming. Our first Worry. $6000 for an architect was not in our budget and what were we going to do?
We knew our opening date was going to be delayed and we had to call our facilitators and let them know. We weren't sure we when we were going to open. Or even if. We were nervous. Ann and Cynthia and Phil and a person from PWC were working overtime making phone calls and researching trying to figure this all out. After a week or so, Ann and Cynthia went to the County Complex to get more information and after some guidance from a kind government worker, put their collective foot down and got the zone changed to something more fitting than an Adult Day Care. After working with several people and what seemed like hours but was really maybe one, our Code Enforcement Inspection was scheduled and we were good to go. Thank Goodness.
The inspectors came early (can you believe it?) and we had only three things to fix. The Fire Chief Inspector said since they were minor, we'd only have one shot to fix it. If we didn't have them fixed within a week, we wouldn't get a second chance. Cynthia went out and picked up the bulb for the emergency light and the new required doorknob. The landlord was called to fix the emergency exit light. He and his handyman came in and after 4 hours of trying realized they needed another day. The thing just wouldn't come on when the breaker was turned off. The next day, Sunday, they were at PWDIC for a couple of hours to fix the sign. When Cynthia came in on Monday to call to schedule the re-inspection, the thing still didn't come on when the breaker was turned off. The day before our deadline and the thing isn't working. After frantic phone calls everywhere, her boyfriend finally had this fire equipment company come to fix the sign. But when he showed up all he could say was we needed an electrician. An electrician when we had to have this thing fixed by tomorrow.
The short end of the story is a new sign was purchased and this groovy electrician type guy came over to hook us up for free. (FREE! Can you believe it?). So the inspector came back right away and Ann and Cynthia sighed huge relief when he gave us the passed-with-flying-colors paper. So we got our Occupancy Permit and realized we didn't need a business license and there wasn't anything left to do but to open! TO OPEN!
We called our Facilitators and said it's for sure a go and can you come in for Orientation and Training on September 21, 2007.
On that Special Friday, our new facilitators started coming in early. We handed out folders with forms and information and more forms. We had everyone introduce themselves and say just a little bit. We got into guidelines and rules for PWDIC consumers, all the boring stuff that goes into hiring like drug policies and taxes. Then it was time to hand out the keys and name tags. We were feeling blessed at the group of people we were lucky enough to hire. So many people with different qualities to bring to PWDIC. What a great group.
Monday was our Opening Day and from Ann and Cynthia there was yet another sigh of excitement and of relief. Our hard work was paying off. It may have taken a few days to get our first few consumers to drop in the Drop In Center. It didn't take very long to get more than a handful of regulars.
After a week or so Ann and Cynthia realized a Grand Opening needed to be planned. So the Facilitators all stepped up to the plate and started organizing. The date was set for October 24. That didn't leave us much time. Food had to be ordered, decorations had to be bought, press releases sent out, and invitations, too. It was exciting to do the planning and everything came together beautifully. People came in for a tour and to meet us all, to hang out, to chit chat, and to eat great food. It was definitely a success.
In the first 2 months of being open, we've already had a flower arranging party, several pizza & movie parties, a few painting groups, latchhook sessions, beading groups, lots of Uno games, an ongoing chess tournament, our bathroom walls were decorated, many great conversations, and lots of connecting and sharing and making friendships.
Ann and Cynthia haven't slowed down. Each day there's more to do. We've contacted local therapists, doctors and churches in the area to let them know we're here. We stay in contact with the CSB. Payroll has to be done 2 times a month. We're working on transportation for our consumers and our website is in process and we finally have figured out a manageable process for food to be purchased on a regular basis for PWDIC. We've already outgrown our refrigerator. We're researching expansion and looking for funding sources all the time, for the day the IRS approves our 501(c)3. From the time we heard about the grant to the day we opened a little more than 5 months elapsed. It was a total whirlwind. It's slowed down slightly but the excitement of all we offer and the ideas of what more we can offer keeps us quite busy indeed.
We've made a dream into reality and we#39;re able to serve Prince William County in a way it desperately needed. And we are thanking goodness every single day.Go to Part 2