PRS exists so that individuals living with mental illness, substance use disorders, mild intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who faces life crises can achieve safety, personal wellness, recovery and community integration.
Originally known as The Social Center, Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services grew from very simple and humble beginnings. PRS’ history is, at its core, a story over a half century long permeated throughout with the often illusive and immeasurable quality called “hope.”
During the 1950s and 60’s, dramatic changes took place in how society perceived and the medical establishment treated serious mental illness. The discovery of new and effective psychotropic medications during this period and the 1963 Community Mental Health Act led to a deinstitutionalization movement. Thousands of individuals struggling with serious mental illness were released from hospitals into their communities. Concerned community organizations realized the vital need for community-based mental health services to help close the gap between hospital and community life.
In 1963, one of these organizations, the Northern Virginia Mental Health Association, instituted a social program to assist recently discharged patients from Western State Hospital in Staunton, VA. They envisioned a social activity that could help provide “a bridge back into the community.” A young woman, Vera Mellen, took on the responsibility of developing the program, which grew quickly with government assistance and transitional funding from the Service League of Northern Virginia (now the Junior League of Northern Virginia). During program social activities, described as “cards, crafts, and conversation,” clients discussed individual goals and identified their needs for housing, entitlements, friends, jobs and transportation.
As the program evolved, it was defined as a “clubhouse” where participants (then called “members”) could be more than just patients in a clinic. They attended and enjoyed the social aspects of the program, but also helped with many aspects of the administration of the program. Participating in and helping with clubhouse activities developed their self-confidence, taught them skills, and, more importantly, instilled a sense of belonging, a sense of being needed and wanted. Goal setting was encouraged, and members’ willingness to risk setting goals for themselves and to ask for help in reaching those goals became the essence of their recovery. The intervention provided by staff was skill training and supports, also known as psychiatric rehabilitation.
On June 11, 1970, the program was incorporated in Virginia as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and was officially named The Social Center. One of the first actions of the new 12-member Board of Directors was to open its first satellite program in Mt. Vernon. In 1974, a third center opened in the Springfield area, and the two satellite programs later combined in 1982 in a Fairfax South County facility. The program Vera Mellen had originally designed to serve fewer than a dozen individuals, with one staff member and a handful of volunteers, had, by late 1974, grown to an agency serving over 300 individuals throughout the region, with a professional staff of 18.
In March, 1983, as the program and technology of psychiatric rehabilitation had evolved and become more comprehensive and professional, the Board of Directors decided to change the name from The Social Center to The Social Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, known more informally as The Social Rehab Center. By 1989, the agency was providing a range of rehabilitative skill training and support services including vocational, educational, case management, recreational and other services to over 400 individuals. Over the 25 years since the inception of the agency, the community came to realize that psychiatric rehabilitation did help clients live more independent, productive and satisfying lives. In addition, community leaders recognized that expenses for trauma experienced from repeated hospitalization, emergency room care, unemployment and homelessness had fallen dramatically as a result. In 1992, with the support of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB), the agency opened another center, the Reston-Faraday Clubhouse, based on the original New York City “Fountain House Model.”
“Securing the Future”
In 1994, as a result of shrinking county budget support and increased demands for program service, the Board endorsed an ambitious effort to broaden the agency’s base of support. This agency-wide effort, known as “Securing the Future,” encompassed the adoption of new Mission, Vision and Values statements developed with participation from Board, staff, family, community and client representatives. Pursuits initiated at that time are still major efforts today, including a direct mail “Friendship Campaign” appeal, affiliation with the United Way of the National Capital Area, the highly successful annual Kentucky Derby Party and a continuous examination and improvement of the agency’s strategic plan.
In conjunction with this overhaul, once again the Board changed the agency’s name, this time to Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. This name more accurately reflected the ever-changing scope and nature of program activities that revolve around providing community-based support and skills training in housing, jobs, education, professional growth, community support, transportation, recreation, advocacy and other needs common to people recovering from mental illness. Ultimately, the formal name was shortened to PRS.
In 1998, founder Vera Mellen retired after 35 years, and Wendy Gradison was hired to succeed her. Having come to understand the dire need for PRS’ services during her tenure as Director of PRS’ Reston Center, Wendy continued to focus program efforts toward clients’ successful integration into the community as PRS’ President and CEO.
The New Century
PRS continued to evolve under the new leadership of Wendy Gradison. The formalized programs included Community Housing, Employment Services, Community Support Services and the Day Programs. In 2002, PRS’ opened an Intensive Supported Housing Program providing a non-time-limited residence with 24/7 staffing for eight clients who need full-time, intensive supports. This program expanded PRS’ existing Community Housing Program of four townhomes, two of which were opened in 1994 and two in 1995, offering non-time-limited housing and day-time support to a total of 12 clients.
PRS Employment Services grew from serving just over 200 clients in 2000 to 502 in 2013. In 2002, PRS formalized the utilization of the Choose-Get-Keep Model of supported employment and numbers served continued to grow along with successful client outcomes. By 2013, a remarkable 89% of clients receiving Employment Services who were employed on July 1, 2012, retained their employment for 12 months or longer.
In 2013, 177 clients were receiving services through PRS Community Support Services (formerly called Home-based Support Services). These clients learned the skills and received the intensive supports they needed to remain in their homes and out of the psychiatric hospital:100% of Community Support and Community Housing clients remained in their housing, avoiding eviction and homelessness; 98% of all PRS clients stayed out of psychiatric hospitals. Across the agency, PRS’ staff of 70 clinicians and administrative personnel served a total of 920 individuals.
Throughout the early 2000s, PRS Day Programs continued to provide a highly structured environment in which clients in the early stages of recovery could master the essential skills of daily living and begin working toward their recovery and community integration goals. A major transformation occurred in the Day Programs in 2010, when in partnership with the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, PRS’ Recovery Academy was launched at both PRS Tysons and PRS Mt. Vernon. This new and innovative service replaced the existing Day Programs and offered a curriculum-based program to support clients’ movement into meaningful community activities of work, volunteering and education. The first handful of classes started in July 2010, with three or four offered at each Center. By January 2011, the Recovery Academy catalog of classes had grown to 42.
The end of the first decade of the new century was a time of significant change at PRS. In 2009, PRS consolidated the PRS Reston and PRS Falls Church Day Programs into PRS Tysons. The new program, larger and more robust than the two programs that melded to create it, opened on July 1, 2009.
That same year, PRS Board of Directors and Leadership Team launched an extensive, two-year Strategic Planning effort to ensure that PRS consistently, efficiently and effectively utilized all resources in helping clients move toward identified goals of Recovery, Community and Wellness. A metrics-based method of service evaluation was developed. By 2010, an agency-wide balanced scorecard provided strategic measures by which the Leadership Team evaluated and improved its customer service delivery, financial stability, infrastructure processes and systems, and employee well-being and satisfaction.
In 2011, in a major strategic move to try to reach more individuals who could benefit from PRS’ skill training and support services, PRS Board of Directors expanded the populations served to include persons with emotional and/or behavioral disorders irrespective of a diagnosis of mental illness. Thus, PRS began providing services to individuals with mild intellectual disabilities, substance use disorders and pervasive developmental disorders, including persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders, in addition to the existing clients living with serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders.
In April of 2013, The Department of Behavioral Health in the District of Columbia invited PRS to offer its Recovery Academy in Washington, D.C. PRS now offers Day/Rehab and Supported Employment services in the nation’s capital.
As a result of PRS’ focus on internal culture to attract and retain its talented employees, PRS was named by the NonProfit Times as one the 50 Best Nonprofits to Work for in the United States in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
A Look to the Future
Given the high numbers of persons with serious mental illness, emotional and/or behavioral disorders who are not receiving services in the community, PRS continues to seek ways to serve more people in need. PRS Employment Services and Community Support Services (formerly Home-based Services) have been expanded to new populations and to new jurisdictions. For example, PRS deploys Employment Specialists to the Arlington and Fairfax-Falls Church County Community Services Boards and provides Community Support Services throughout Northern Virginia. After a successful pilot project in Fairfax County, PRS formalized its program of Behavioral Supports for persons with Asperger’s Disorder. PRS established the HOPE Fund to begin providing services to those who do not qualify for Medicaid or the public’s dollars.
In 2009, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) reported that 4.8 percent of adults had a serious mental illness in the past year. Using that statistic as a benchmark, Northern Virginia with a population of over 1.5 million in 2009, would have had over 72,000 residents with a serious mental illness, the majority of whom did not receive treatment. PRS continues to reach out to the underserved in critical need of support to help them learn to reconnect with their communities, become self-sufficient, productive members of society and to overcome the seemingly impenetrable barriers created by their illnesses.
Unfortunately, many people in the Northern Virginia, District of Columbia, and beyond are still in dire need of the services and supports PRS provides. Our aim for the coming decade is to expand service delivery to reach as many individuals who could benefit from PRS’ effective skill training and supports possible.