The Wellness Shack showed off its new location at 505 S. Dewey St. at an open house last Thursday (Jan. 26).
The nonprofit peer-run mental health support agency was told in September that it would need to move out of its former location at 515 S. Barstow St. at the end of the year because the space was to undergo remodeling and the rent would at least triple, putting it well beyond the organization’s budget capability.
The agency’s board of directors looked at 24 different properties before voting to move into Suite 101 of the Executive Center at the Dewey Street location. The agency was looking for space on or near a bus route and close to community services, most of which are located downtown.
Thursday’s open house was designed to show the new facility to the public and to provide information about the peer-to-peer services the Wellness Shack provides to people struggling with mental health disorders.
Robert J. Schrader, Wellness Shack director, said finding a new location that was both larger and affordable was a difficult task. All of the potential locations required some remodeling and the rents were more than was budgeted. The agency’s response was to set up a “Save the Shack” campaign on the crowd-finding website GoFundMe.com, and this effort raised just over $12,000 for he organization.
“The vast majority of the funds we raised were contributed by 18 Wellness Shack members, their friends, or families,” Schrader said in a press release. “That pretty much demonstrates how important the Wellness Shack is to the people who use our recovery services.”
Mayo Clinic Health Systems and HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital showed their support of the Wellness Shack by awarding matching five-year grants totaling $20,000.
“It’s exciting to have the hospitals supporting our peer to peer services,” Schrader said. “We are grateful for their generosity and hope to cultivate more collaborations between mental illness survivors and providers.
The grants show that the two hospitals “support the Eau Claire community’s efforts to stave the growing need for mental health services,” Schrader added.
“These last four months have challenged us as an organization,” he said. “Coming out safe on the other side has shown us the strength and resilience we have as a peer-run organization.”
Schrader also said that Jack Kaiser of Cigan Properties was a huge help to the small nonprofit organization which has become its tenant.
“We had six weeks left to find a new location, negotiate a lease, and complete the remodeling,” he said. “Six weeks was not a lot of time to tear down walls, move doors, and replace flooring.”
A pair of Cigan Properties’ carpenters proved to be up to the challenge, Schrader said. The final touches were completed on Dec.16, giving Wellness Shack volunteers 15 days to complete the move.
“We can’t thank Cigan Properties enough for their generosity and help with rent and remodeling costs,” Schrader said.
Last fall, when the agency was informed of the impending increase in its rent, Schrader said that one reason behind the increase was the expectation of increased demand for downtown space as a result of the Confluence Project’s success.
“Everyone is anticipating there’s going to be all sorts of business coming into the downtown,” he said then in a telephone interview.
The Wellness Shack has reported consistent increases in the number of people who have used its services since it was established in 2004. On average, 20 to 25 people come to The Wellness Shack on any given day.
Most of those people look for support and understanding from people who have faced similar challenges in living with mental illness, according to the agency. Programs at the Wellness Shack work through support groups, informal and formal peer support and socialization techniques to keep people from escalating into a mental health crisis.