The mission of CHARG Resource Center is "to advance a model of genuine partnership among individuals who live with mental illness, mental health professionals, and the larger community, through respectful, comprehensive services." We have pioneered an innovative partnership model, under which our mentally ill clients are equal partners in the development and implementation of our services. They elect their own board of directors, which governs our Center in equal partnership with the community-based board. Empowerment of the mental health consumer is further enhanced through the development of paid jobs for approximately 24 of our members at our two locations.
The Capitol Hill Action and Recreation Group, Inc. (CHARG) was incorporated in 1980 by a group of mental health consumers working with the assistance of a VISTA volunteer who was assigned to Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods. Since its inception, CHARG has been involved in numerous advocacy and supportive activities to benefit mentally ill persons in Denver. Its Board of Directors and membership are composed exclusively of persons who have chronic mental illness. Most of them have diagnoses of schizophrenia or manic-depressive (bipolar) illness and most live below the poverty level, with financial support from Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income. They must deal with delusions, hallucinations, disorganization of thought, extreme mood swings, and other devastating ongoing symptoms.
In May 1989 a small group of mental health professionals and other community supporters incorporated a new nonprofit called HEART of Boardwalk. (HEART stands for Healing, Empowerment, and Advocacy for a Richer Tomorrow.) Its mission was to assist mental health consumers' efforts to take more effective control over their own lives through developing empowering alternatives and seeking to fill gaps in the existing mental health system. The President of HEART of Boardwalk and the President of CHARG (a psychiatric nurse and a person suffering from schizophrenia, respectively), working closely together, soon began to visualize a new project which was to be a joint venture of the two 501.c.3 organizations. This project, which they named CHARG Resource Center, was the embodiment of a philosophy which they called the "partnership model."
The essence of the partnership model is the idea that the most effective and lasting empowerment of persons with mental illness occurs when mental health consumers are able to make their own independent decisions regarding their needs. At the same time, it was recognized that consumers require dependable, ongoing assistance from others in the larger community if they are to succeed in developing a stable resource for themselves. These goals were achieved by building an equal partnership between the two organizations.
CHARG Resource Center opened its doors as a drop-in center in the basement of a Capitol Hill Church in August, 1989, with a professional staff of one; in February, 1990, an executive director was hired and a comprehensive mental health clinic was opened in response to mental health consumers' wishes. With funding support from local foundations and various churches, the program continued to grow; the clinic applied for and eventually received certification from the Colorado Department of Health and Division of Mental Health, enabling it to access Medicaid and Medicare insurance reimbursement. In 1992, an outreach program for homeless mentally ill adults was started in cooperation with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. In September, 1995, CHARG Resource Center moved its clinic and administrative offices to a new building which was purchased thanks to a major grant from the Junior League of Denver. The Center continues to develop programs and initiatives in response to unmet needs which are identified by its partners, and all policies must be approved by each of the two governing boards before they can take effect. We are particularly proud to have the only mental health clinic in existence anywhere, to our knowledge, which must submit all of its policies to an all-consumer board for approval.
Throughout its existence, CHARG Resource Center has been very active as an important voice of mental health consumers in Colorado, and is extensively involved in advocacy and public education activities to insure consumer representation in important decisions and to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. We founded and organized the Coalition for the Advancement of Rights in Treatment (CART), a diverse group of mental health consumers and advocates from a number of organizations; this group is regularly represented in state-level policy planning for mental health. Our newsletter goes out to 2,000 interested supporters and keeps them apprised of our activities. Our mental health consumers have spoken to countless college classes, conferences and workshops about the needs of persons with mental illness. And for the past ten years, we have presented an annual conference in Denver focusing on empowerment of mental health consumers; the conference attracts a variety of attenders, including consumers, professionals, family members and persons from the nonprofit and business sectors, who brainstorm together about the challenges of empowerment and creating lasting partnerships.
From CHARG mental health consumers:
"I am a 41 year old man with bipolar disorder. I have been treated at the CHARG clinic for 10 years. CHARG has helped me live a normal life. I have a good part-time job working for CHARG at the Drop-In Center, that I have worked for over six years. That is the longest I have ever held any job, and I owe my success to CHARG and the amazing support I receive there."
"I have learned so much from attending the weekly consumer board meetings. I now know what is involved in keeping an organization running. I know what a budget looks like and how a meeting is structured. I hope to remain on the board for many years to come."
"Given that my wife is a black woman who has schizophrenia and I am a white man with schizophrenia, I don't know any other place that could possibly treat us better than CHARG Resource CenterHeartland Clinic."
"I cannot say enough about CHARG Resource Center! I have been with CHARG since May of 2000 and we have gone through several positive changes in that time. I have seen up close exactly how the partnership model is meant to work. This is something I'd never seen before in my 20 years experience in the mental health system... I've learned a new way to approach diagnosis and treatment issues through being a part of CHARG Resource Center."
"When I first came to CHARG I stayed off in the corner by myself. Eventually I got involved with the consumer board. After being on the board for a year I became Co-President. I started speaking at workshops about CHARG and how CHARG has helped me change my life. I feel CHARG belongs to the consumers rather than the staff. I don't know of any other mental health center where consumers get to have a say about hiring staff, even our doctor. At CHARG I feel like my ideas and feelings are important and that they are accepted. Going to CHARG has given me the confidence I now have in myself. I don't know what I would do without CHARG."