A partnership between the Marlee Sutton Foundation, the Lawrence County School System and The Enrichment Center at Eagle Counseling in Decatur is providing free mental health counseling services to Lawrence County students over the summer.
These free services became free to students in March when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharon Willis with the Enrichment Center explained.
"We actually started that back in March. Our counselors were in contact with their students and their principles to let them know how to contact the counselor and access those services," Willis said.
For Lawrence County, students may contact Katie Newberry, an Enrichment Center counselor who began providing services in the school system part-time last school year.
In 2019, funds raised by the Marlee Sutton Foundation and a match from the school system helped to provide a full-time certified mental health counselor to the school district. Cassie Parker was hired through the Enrichment Center to provide those services for the school year, MSF Co-founder Wendy Norwood said.
"We realized Cassie had more students that she could see. She was having a hard time keeping up and she could not take on any additional students," Norwood said. "The Enrichment Center funded the new part-time counselor, Katie, and provided those services to us."
Willis said the Enrichment Center is able to provide Newberry's services to the school system, as well as the summer counseling service, for free through grant funding and the center's own fundraising efforts each year.
"We look for donations and grants and all those kinds of things to keep the Enrichment Center going. We do not charge Medicaid or insurance; they kind of tell you how many times you can see a child and that kind of thing," she explained.
Willis said the Enrichment Center was able to donate Newberry's services to Lawrence County schools following a grant the organization received from the Daniel Foundation.
Willis said Newberry began working at Speake School some last school year, and the new part-time counselor also worked alongside Parker for the district for a few days. Newberry will be continuing the free services to students and Lawrence County school employees over the summer.
How it works for students: The Enrichment Center has subscribed to a telehealth service, which is HIPAA compliant and allows students and counselors to meet virtually during this era of social distancing, Willis explained.
The services offer both audio or video call connections, but they do require an internet connection. For students without internet access, Willis urged the student to contact Newberry.
"We'd have to get the school system's permission to be able to meet at the school right now, but we're certainly willing to work out arrangements and do what we can to provide services."
For Lawrence County students or school system employees needing the services, contact Katie Newberry at 256-274-1239 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to begin the referral process.
The Marlee Sutton Foundation, which was formed in 2018 following the death of Wendy Norwood's daughter Marlee, continues its work to provide funding to the schools to continue employing mental health counselors for the students, something Willis said the Enrichment Center is dedicated to assisting with as well.
Parker and Newberry will each be returning to Lawrence County next school year, she said.
"This is something we're going to continue because I'm passionate about putting mental health counselors in the schools, and people like Wendy with the Marlee Foundation, they're absolutely passionate about it. We have found the school district to be extremely helpful and supportive. (Superintendent Jon Bret) Smith has been great," she said. "We're excited to be in Lawrence County. We appreciate the Marlee Sutton Foundation, and the Lawrence County school district for all that they're doing to partner with us so that we can provide services to the kids."
For more information about the Enrichment Center, contact Willis at 256-227-2601, or email her at Sharon@theenrichmentcenter.org