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Organizers envision another free clinic, but with different focus

Nancy Holden, 79, is a retired United Methodist Church minister who pastored at churches in Fargo and across North Dakota for more than 20 years. She’s lived in River Falls on Morgan Road with her husband Doug, who briefly taught history UW-River Falls, for 11 years. Holden has long run a private ministry for the “drug-and-alcohol addictive community.” Since coming to River Falls, she’s also become a Unitarian minister and facilitates two group sessions of Adult Children of Alcoholics.

A local service group is spotlighting a neglected area of wellness by trying to form a free clinic for those with mental illnesses who can’t afford treatment.

Coalition for a Compassionate Community, which formed in November 2011 and has hosted publicity campaigns on school bullying and domestic violence, now takes aim at problems of mental health care.

CCC chairwoman Nancy Holden said the group’s ultimate goal is to find building space by spring 2015 to open a free mental health clinic.

The plan is to follow the successful blueprint used by the Free Clinic of Pierce and St. Croix Counties.

The latter formed in 2007, operates Tuesday evenings in a wing of the River Falls Medical Clinic, and is a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization serving the poor and the uninsured who suffer from various physical ailments.

Anyone who wants to learn more about CCC’s project is invited to attend a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Society, N8010 Hwy. 65, town of River Falls, at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 5.

“This is the first time for making the plan open to the public,” said Holden, a Unitarian community minister affiliated with the local UU Society. “It’s an opportunity for people interested in this topic to listen to the presentation and ask questions.

“It’s a very big undertaking. Our group has virtually no money, and we’ll need to write grants and eventually find a permanent location for the clinic.”

The Jan. 5 meeting will blend with the Unitarian fellowship service for that Sunday morning. There’ll be a sign-up sheet for those wishing to volunteer for the mental healthcare project.

Holden will preside and introduce three featured speakers: Licensed counselor Catherine Olson; former River Falls School District psychologist and now volunteer for Our Neighbors Place (homeless shelter) Jeff Horner; and Don Richards, former high school English teacher and River Falls mayor, and the current CCC secretary.

These three and Holden will guide he project through its formative stages. Organizers must yet decide on a name for the new clinic.

Holden said the federal Affordable Care Act offers hope with additional coverage mandates for mental health care.

“But there’s still a large, unmet need out there in our communities, including River Falls,” she said. “We want to build on the (Affordable Care Act) emphasis. We now have free medical care for people in our community with physical ailments, but we lack free care for those with mental illnesses.”

The recent spate of mass shootings across the country are often tied to perpetrators suffering from an untreated mental illness.

“That makes the subject that we’re dealing with here really timely,” Holden said.

She said a mental health clinic would be designed to screen and provide initial free counseling and treatment for qualifying patients.

Afterward patients would be referred to a network of counselors in the field who offer a sliding-fee pay scale based on income.

Holden said the name Coalition for a Compassionate Community defines why the group has taken on this project.

“I have come to think of it in terms of used by someone like the late Nelson Mandela -- it’s about ‘we,” not about us and them,” she said. “That approach is what makes for a better community.

“That’s why we don’t want our children bullied, or our daughters and our wives to be beaten and murdered in abusive relationships. Now, continuing with that theme, we turn our attention to the unmet needs of mental health.”

Feel free to email Holden at

Another source of information about the free mental health clinic project is Kim Wojcik, from Turningpoint domestic abuse shelter, at 715-425-6751, ext. 102.