TMHATransitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA) has received a $10,000 grant from the Opportunity to Thrive Initiative at The Community Foundation of SLO County (CFSLOCO). This grant will be used to support a new program called First Day Out in conjunction with a new Recidivism Reduction program with the County of San Luis Obispo.

First Day Out provides a critical, compassionate transition for adults with mental health issues who are being released from San Luis Obispo County Jail. The program will provide these individuals with a warm handoff, some basic essentials for resuming their life on the outside and, above all, a caring person waiting for them the moment they are released – a program mentor.

TMHA recently received a Community Recidivism Reduction grant from the County of San Luis Obispo to create a Peer Mentorship program: TMHA hired a part-time individual with lived experience who is working with the Corrections System to help facilitate the release of incarcerated adult mental health consumers, ensuring that they can achieve success in the community.

Anthony Benavidez began work with TMHA as a Support Driver for the Homeless Outreach Team.  Through a combination of personal and family experience, he brings first-hand knowledge regarding incarceration and mental illness.  “I understand what happens,” Benavidez insists.  “You get out, you need a warm welcome.”

“The intention is that the Program Mentor will bring real life experience to issues of incarceration, reentry, and mental health,” said Joe Madsen, Division Director of Housing and Support Services for TMHA. “This individual meets with clients both before and after release, provides peer leadership and counseling, and becomes a proactive resource for linkages to wellness programs that feature life skills and support groups, vocational opportunities, housing, and education.”

The Opportunity to Thrive grant will allow TMHA’s Program Mentor, Benavidez, to spend half a day with each client on their day of release.  The grant will pay for transportation and the cost of customized Welcome Packages that will include food, toiletries, bus passes, clothes and, in some cases, a motel voucher.

Benavidez will have the advantage of establishing initial contact with these individuals on the inside, through the Community Recidivism Reduction program.  “I will be able to anticipate special needs, and be able to build certain flexibility into the time spent on the day of release,” explained Benavidez. “I can prepare for challenges that can often overwhelm individuals who have just gotten out of jail.”

The Program Mentor will work with each client to create a mental health program plan that covers such meaningful outcomes as medical appointments, medication plans, accessing local social services and wellness programs, Medi-Cal enrollment and, when appropriate, vocational and educational opportunities.

“The vision is to create a plan that will sustain each client in the months after release,” said Madsen.

The purpose of the Opportunity to Thrive Initiative is to provide support to individuals and families in transition and striving to achieve self-sufficiency and stability. Grant funds are used to overcome one-time barriers and address gaps in assistance programs.

In only sixteen years, the CFSLOCO has given out more than $26 million in grants to assist nonprofit agencies. For more information on the CFSLOCO or any funds, call 543-2323 or log onto www.cfsloco.org.