The Village of Forest Park is working with the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission to bring together west suburban mental health and social service providers for a mental health expo tentatively scheduled to take place May 6 at Mohr Community Center, 7640 Jackson Blvd.
The goal of the fair is to let Forest Parkers and other west suburban residents learn about the resources that are already available in their communities. The organizers also hope to do their part to ease the stigma around mental health issues and encourage people to see it as they would any other health issues. They are still looking for vendors, but they hope to attract as many organizations as possible to cover as many demographics as possible.
Commissioner of Public Health and Safety Maria Maxham said the fair grew out of discussions she had with Public Health & Safety Director Steve Glinke and Mohr Community Center Director Karen Dylewski. The village doesn’t heave a mental health department, nor does it have the resources to set up one, but it was still something that affected the village. For example, Glinke’s department had to respond to hoarders who passed away, and individuals dealing with mental health issues often go to the community center.
Maxham said the three officials reached out to the Oak Park Township Community Mental Health Board for advice – and the officials suggested they reach out to the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission.
The commission uses its own property tax levy to provide assistance to the social service nonprofits throughout Proviso Township. It also shares information about those providers and raises awareness about mental health issues in the community, including substance abuse.
Maxham said that, until that meeting, she didn’t realize the commission even existed.
“I don’t know if, historically, the village has had a really good relationship with the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission,” she said. “I think we probably never reached out to them.”
The trio, along with Village Administrator Moses Amidei and Rachell Entler, the mayor’s executive assistant, reached out to commission executive director Jesse Rosas. Forest Park and the Proviso commission agreed to collaborate. One of the first things they did was take stock of what’s already there, so Forest Park can have a list they can use to refer residents in need.
“We’re putting together a list of local resources for people who are struggling with mental health issues, food insecurity, housing insecurity and substance abuse,” Maxham said. “We’re going to publish the list on our website and put together a pamphlet.”
She said they want to make sure the resources would work for a wide variety of groups, including youth, veterans, seniors and LGBTQ+ individuals.
Forest Park and the Proviso commission also agreed to do a mental health expo to bring those providers together in one place and let residents see what they offer. Maxham said that, while there has been some progress in destigmatizing mental illness, it’s still something that has to be addressed.
“I think we have a long way to go, and for people to understand that it’s OK to ask for help, and not look at it as a bad thing, and to sort of have grace when talking about the issue,” she said. “We mentioned that we want to do this health care with PMHC, and they said they’d be happy to work with us.”
Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, Maxham said, it made sense to schedule it early in the month. She said they hope to get people not just from Forest Park and other Proviso Township municipalities, but from Oak Park, River Forest and other “neighboring communities.”
Maxham said that they are still looking for vendors. Anyone interested in participating should reach out to Entler at email@example.com.