IOWA CITY — Sometimes, being heard can make all the difference.
That’s the concept behind the new R Place Peer Center in Iowa City.
The mental health drop-in center for adults — located at 220 Lafayette Street Suite 180 — is intended to be a place where people can find recovery, rest, renewal, recreation and relationships, and that’s where it got its name. Though the space has been active since February, the center held its grand opening Monday night.
Lucienne Boeing, a trained peer specialist at R Place, said listening is key to the R Place concept.
“Listening is the biggest thing, some of these people just need to be listened to or heard,” Boeing said. “A lot of times we may be doing crafts, but there’s still a group discussion going on. And if there’s a need for one on one time, we can step outside or find a place to talk one on one.”
Mary Issah, executive director of the National Aliance on Mental Illness in Johnson County, said the idea for R Place came to fruition after a group of NAMI members heard about and visited other wellness centers in Ames and Des Moines. From there, a committee was formed to create a wellness center, like R Place, in Iowa City. The planning process began about two years ago.
R Place, which was made possible through a collaboration with NAMI Johnson County, is intended to serve as a place for people with mental illness to go and receive different types of peer-led therapy.
“It’s currently at no charge for the people coming, so that really makes it unique because most of these types of services require people to have funding to be able to pay for the services, so we are trying to keep it at no cost,” Issah said.
Issah said that therapy includes things such as support groups, peer support specialists, music therapy, mindfulness activities, yoga, Tai Chi, movie nights and different kinds of crafting or art-related activities.
And Boeing, who has dealt with mental illness herself, said her experience as a peer support specialist at R Place has been rewarding.
“I like working with people,” Boeing said. “I know we’re here to help others and I find that I really enjoy the days that I’m here because I notice the calm and I feel calm knowing I’m going to be here.”
The center has funding for a few peer support specialists, like Boeing, who are trained to provide peers with services and an intern that serves as a coordinator.
“That concept is very important in mental health today,” said Mary Lu Callahan, who served on the planning committee that made R Place possible. “The support that would come from a peer is going to be better — I think they would tell you — than support from someone who hasn’t experienced trying to live in recovery with a mental illness.”
Issah said a donor is currently paying for the location’s rent and R Place received a start-up grant from Johnson County for $3,140.
The peer support center will fill a unique void in the community that, some say, could help cut down on mental health-related ER visits.
“It’s a place to go to feel welcome, to belong, to feel normal and accepted — and that’s really important because a lot of people dealing with mental illness do not feel normal and do not feel accepted — and to share experiences, to me, that’s the core mission,” said LaDonna Wicklund, a NAMI board member.
Since it opened in February, R Place has been visited 250 times by 49 people.
R Place is open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To schedule an appointment with a peer support specialist at R Place, call 319-354-3455 or email firstname.lastname@example.org