The Mental Health Association of NW PA is organized for people diagnosed with mental illness. We provide an atmosphere where mental health consumers can safely relax with their peers. We are consumer run organization. The MHANP board of directors must have more than 50% consumer representation. The goal is to support and promote mental health recovery. The Consumer Center Team provides a safe environment for members to enjoy a wide range of social or educational activities or to just be. The Consumer/Family Satisfaction Team functions as a service for Consumers and Family members to voice their opinion regarding their own mental health services. Advocacy efforts range from navigating systems such as: mental health, housing, vocational, educational and financial to writing a resumé or helping someone register to vote. Volunteering provides opportunities as a means to help ease the transition back into gainful employment.
Membership in the MHA is free and there are no requirements regarding your attendance. Come as little or as often as you want!
Any and all adults above the age of 18 with a history of treatment for mental health needs may seek free membership and services from the Mental Health Association. We operate for the benefit of mental health consumers through consumer conceived, designed and operated programs.
According to the US 2000 Census, approximately 24,000 adults with disabilities live in the Erie area and less than half of them are employed. The Consumer Center is a safe environment for members to enjoy a wide range of social or educational activities or to just be. The main area of the Consumer Center accommodates recreational activities such as pool, ping-pong, movies or board games as well as space for stimulating conversation and relaxation. There is a small cafe in which snacks and drinks can be purchased with space to sit and enjoy a meal with friends. The Consumer Center also provides members with two activity rooms, a Self-Help library, laundry facilities, computer center, lounge area, classroom, and a telephone where local calls can be made and received if necessary. We provide rides home to the surrounding areas most days out of the week. Over the last four years the MHA has served more than 600 people annually. Visit "Our Place", our consumer center.
Activities and Support Groups
The activities and support groups provided by the Mental Health Association are focused on the needs and desires of members. Overall, activities and groups are educational, social and/or fun.The MHA calendar averages over 50 organized events per month. As part of our mission and values, we encourage the members to develop and facilitate their own support groups. The Mental Health Association provides the meeting place and often the materials needed for groups and activities. These are our groups.
The Consumer/Family Satisfaction Team functions as a service to all mental health consumers and family members who are a part of the Health Choices Service System and/or the Public Mental Health system of Erie Co. Through the Consumer/Family Satisfaction Team's individual contacts and interviews, Consumers and Family members have the opportunity to voice their opinion regarding their own mental health services. The information gathered by this team is reported as group results to providers and funders and is used to improve mental health services in the areas of quality, accessibility, effectiveness, and general satisfaction in Erie County. This team has collected and analyzed as many as 4,000 satisfaction surveys from their fellow consumers and family members each year.
The MHA focuses its primary advocacy resources on representing Consumers and Families in whatever capacity meets their needs. By supporting those individual needs Consumers/Families are able to take steps towards self-advocacy and their own recovery. Advocacy efforts range from navigating systems such as: mental health, housing, vocational, educational, and financial to providing materials to apply for work, writing a resume' or helping someone register to vote. The MHA has liaisons with Millcreek Community Hospital and St. Vincent's Health Center.
The External Advocate is located on-site at Warren State Hospital (WSH) and is available to patients 5 days a week. This advocate safeguards the human rights of all WSH patients regardless of county of residence, by supporting them when they have complaints or issues. The External Advocate helps with investigation of claims of abuse, neglect and maltreatment as well. The Warren State Hospital External Advocate also ensures patient involvement in policy development or change, and helps to disseminate information about rights and recovery to patients. (S)he is a key contact at intake and orientation for all new patients and is available to attend and participate in patient treatment team meetings and Consumer Support Plan sessions. The External Advocate also sits on multiple committees at the hospital. The external advocate is trained in Recovery Principles and Advance Directives. External Advocates Schedule
Volunteers play a major role in the functioning and well being of the Mental Health Association and its members. Interaction with consumer center members is vital to the volunteer experience. Volunteers help in any way possible. Volunteering also provides opportunities for individuals who have been out of the workforce due to mental illness as a means to help ease the transition back into gainful employment.
- Full mailing address:
- Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA
- 1101 Peach Street
- Erie, PA 16501-1839
- Phone Number:
- 814 452-4462
- Fax Number:
- 814 456-6593
- Email Address:
Members of our Staff
- Bill Grove
- Bill Grove mailbox
- Thomas Hover
- Financial Officer
- Thomas Hover mailbox
- LuAnn Gossett
- Administrative Assistant
- LuAnn Gossett mailbox
- Rita Wheeler
- Program/Volunteer Coordinator
- Rita Wheeler mailbox
- Melissa Runiewicz
- Center Team Leader
- Melissa Runiewicz mailbox
- Danielle DiFilippo
- Consumer/Family Satisfaction Team Leader
- Danielle DiFilippo mailbox
- Dave Wooledge
- Peer Support Team Leader
- Dave Wooledge mailbox
Board of Directors
- Missi Berquist
- Salvador A. Parco, PHD.
- Holly Schwab
- Angela Lasher
- Board Member
- Jennifer Coons
- Board Member
- Jonathon Walton
- Board Member
- Chris Colao Nickson
- Board Member
Above and Beyond award given MHA staff
The MHA Board of Directors recognizes MHA staff members who perform exceptional deeds which prove to be instrumental in the lives of mental health consumers. These deeds deserve to be celebrated. The 'Above and Beyond' award has recently been awarded to four MHA staff members in gratitude for these special efforts.
Our Future and our Past
Mission Statement of the Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA
The MHA provides a consumer driven environment which supports and promotes recovery for people with mental health needs.
Vision of the Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA
All people with mental health needs lead meaningful and satisfying lives through choice, responsibility, and dignity with respect.
The MHA values empowering people with mental health needs in their recovery.
Historical Perspective of Recovery and MHA in Erie PA
The vision for what was to become the Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA began to form in March 1992. This is when the Consumer Empowerment Project began at MECA in with a vision of housing mental health consumer-run, consumer-directed projects. The idea was to form a group of consumers interested in participation on social service agency boards, in essence, to have meaningful consumer involvement in organizations that were directing the flow of services being provided.
A group of consumers met in the basement of the Arts and Culture Center at Stairways Behavioral Health. They talked of a need for more structure and helped to form a consumer support group and a consumer drop-in center in Erie, PA. John Farmer, an activist consumer from Philadelphia, was invited for consultation and offered support to this determined group. Meetings followed at the MECA Office in the Baldwin Building (now Renaissance Center). Participants learned how to structure a group, had training in group facilitation and visited drop in centers in PA. Another individual wanted to start a local chapter of the Depression/Manic Depression Association (now Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance). He needed a place to hold the meetings. At the time DMDA met two different days at two different times. Mr. Bill Grove, then Supervisor of Inpatient Therapy at Saint Vincent Hospital found space for DMDA to hold information sharing and support to consumers on the inpatient psychiatric unit. Confidentiality was upheld.
In 1993 the Erie/Warren Project to bring Erie County residents receiving treatment at Warren State Hospital back to the community was underway. "Together We Stand" was a group of consumers who met at Stairways to bring a consumer voice and perspective to this downsizing of the State Hospital. They requested and received funding from Erie County Office of MH/MR to start a Consumer Center as a peer support project for the returning consumers. The Center operated in the basement of Mid-City Towers in downtown Erie during the 1992-1993 fiscal year. Referred to then as Consumer Projects, the center started out housing a drop-in center, named “Our Place” by its members, and the Consumer Satisfaction Team (CST) in 1994. Visits were made to consult with and receive training from Loretta Ferry, Consumer Satisfaction Team, in Philadelphia, PA.
Ms. Sue Bennett, a founding member of the group, worked with Mr. John Farmer from Southeast PA to turn the vision of a consumer driven/run organization into reality for Erie, PA. Providers, Erie County MH officials, family members and consumers came together in support of the idea. In 1994 the Consumer Center and the Consumer Satisfaction Team were incorporated as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization becoming the Erie County Coalition of Mental Health Consumers (ECCMHC) with a Board of Directors and Susan L. Bennett as Executive Director. The ECCMHC operated out of various locations over the next couple of years including Old Main (part of Stairways) on West 21st and Sassafras Streets.
The tireless search continued for a permanent location for consumers to have support groups and a Consumer Center. In August 1997, again with the assistance and support of the Erie County MH/MR Office, the ECCMHC bought a building at 1101 Peach Street, Erie, PA. This facility remains the home of the organization to this day.
In 2000 the ECCMHC began an eight year affiliation with the National Mental Health Association and was renamed the Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA.
For the next five years, MHA continued to grow its Consumer Center and Consumer Satisfaction Team programs. Numbers of daily participants in the Consumer Center rose from 20-30 per day to over 50. The CST added surveying of family members with children in the mental health system renaming itself as the Consumer/Family Satisfaction Team (CFST) and increased its surveying capacity to over 3,000 surveys per year.
In 2005 MHA subcontracted with Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania to be the provider of External Advocate services at Warren State Hospital, helping to ensure consumers had an independent source of advocacy for human rights at that facility. In 2006, MHA developed its second out-of-county contract, providing a Community Advocate in Forest/Warren Counties. In this same year Erie County began contracting with the Consumer Satisfaction Team to survey Drug and Alcohol program consumers receiving county funded services.
In 2008 MHA's Erie programs were operating out of the first floor of our main facility but we were growing again. We had been renting the second floor to a related service that was now looking for a more accessible site. With the help of Erie County MH/MR, our tenant was able to find an appropriate facility and MHA was able to secure funding to renovate the vacated space for our use. Erie County had trained over 50 consumers in the new career option of Certified Peer Specialists and wanted MHA to develop 2 new projects, the Peer Housing Support Program and the Consumer Employment Outreach Coordinator, both providing employment opportunities and support components for some of the newly trained Peer Specialists.
MHA now houses consumer driven/run programs on all floors of its facility. The Consumer Center takes up the entire first floor which used to serve all our programs. It serves 70 to 100 mental health consumers each of the six days per week it operates. Further renovations to that floor in 2010 now offer consumers laundry and shower facilities, a café, and a full kitchen. In the winter of 2008, the Consumer Center joined with Erie County to offer a mental health consumer run Warming Center for any shelterless individuals from 11 at night to 7 the next morning on the coldest of winter nights.
In recent years MHA has continued to explore and develop new options for consumer engagement in self-help support and employment. The role of Certified Peer Specialist has become more accepted as valuable resource for recovery. The Peer Housing Support Team has transitioned into a Free-Standing Peer Support Program billing medical assistance for its services. It has the capacity to serve over 150 peers. In 2012 MHA will begin operating the first consumer run Supported Housing Program in Erie County called Make It a Home Always. Today MHA continues to serve mental health consumers with quality peer based services employing over 35 full and part-time staff, 75% of whom are consumers of mental health services. We are proud of our heritage of service and opportunity for helping persons with mental health needs pursue mental health recovery throughout every aspect of the organization.