As individuals who have lived through mental health struggles of their own and sometimes feel lost about what to do and where to turn, Becky Brown and Deb Williams now hope they can use their own experiences to help others in the same position.
Brown and Williams, who are both state certified peer recovery specialists, have launched Together We Can Inc., a new nonprofit organization focused on providing free mental health education and support classes in Marshall County and the surrounding area. According to Brown, the idea for the group arose from her own personal trials and tribulations in the past.
“I’ve been having mental health issues for a long time. So I’m in recovery, and there’s not a lot available if you’re in recovery,” she said. “I feel that there would be a good need for support groups and classes because I know when I was first going through things, if I had somebody to talk to, it would’ve helped, but I didn’t have anybody to talk to . If I would’ve had a lot more information, I wouldn’t have felt so out in the dark.”
Williams and Brown met through a previous employer, and Brown said she asked Williams to come onboard because she felt she would be a great fit for the kind of work she wanted to do. Williams shared similar sentiments about what she hopes Together We Can accomplish, citing the need to help those who are struggling to feel less alone.
Initially, the groups will meet once a week between March 1 and April 19 — either Wednesdays from 10 am to noon or on Mondays from 7 to 9 pm — at the Gathering Place, which is located just west of the First Presbyterian Church building at 101 W. Church St. The first session will focus on positive distraction or coping skills, and each one will have a different theme.
“What I want them to take away is to learn how to use a distraction skill the right way,” Brown said.
For Williams, her personal journey dates back over 40 years. She was first diagnosed with mental illness in 1980 and felt lost, wondering where to get help until she finally attended a conference 20 years later.
“That’s where I saw people with mental illness that had jobs and stuff. It just turned my life around, and then I started learning. I taught myself a lot,” she said. “That helped me, just learning about mental illness and ways of coping. That got me into helping others.”
At her past job with United Healthcare, Williams saw a lot of patients who would end up in the hospital after not taking their medications, but she noticed that providing an avenue for people to receive support made a huge difference in the long run.
“For Marshalltown, the people that I’ve talked to are just kind of lost. They don’t know where to go for information, and we want to be the place where they can come and get information about what’s going on with them,” she said.
One important note is that the women behind Together We Do not intend to replace traditional therapy and counseling services — they merely hope to serve as a complement and even hope that some of the individuals who come to their classes may decide to get set up with a therapist locally. They also plan to expand the offerings to include Zoom sessions for residents of surrounding counties and give community presentations in the future. As Williams put it, they intend to play a small role in the larger local mental health system.
“A lot of people get the diagnosis, and then they say ‘Oh, we’ll see you in a month.’ They’re like ‘Well, now what do I do?’ And we want them to be able to come to us to find out what it is,” she said. “People go through different diagnoses as they age and they get really confused, so we want to provide that kind of information too.”
While they certainly aren’t launching this endeavor to make money, Brown and Williams would like to find their own space at some point in the future, and they will look to grant funding and tax-deductible donations (Together We Can is officially registered as a 501(c)(3) organization) to help make that happen.
“We’re more or less just starting this just to show that there’s a need, and that makes it a little easier going after money when you show that there’s a need,” Williams said. “But we’re not doing this for money. I volunteer and I’ll always be a volunteer.”
A preliminary meeting is scheduled for Thursday at the Marshalltown Public Library at 1 pm to assess the community’s needs and gauge the level of interest in the classes tentatively scheduled to begin in March. While it’s hard to predict what Together We Can will look like in the future, Brown and Williams are already planting a solid foundation in the present.
“I see it as a way to help them learn about their illness and then help them advocate and teach others about it because there’s a lot of misconceptions,” Brown said. “So if they have the knowledge and they get rid of some of the misconceptions, then things are a lot easier.”
To learn more about Together We Can, contact Brown at (515) 391-3233 or Williams at (641) 750-3292. Pre-registration is required for the classes at the Gathering Place, but Thursday’s meeting is open to the general public.
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or