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CHAC helps kids, parents cope

Since 1973, a unique safety net for mental disorders

On any given weekday, an army of counselors are spread throughout the city, standing by in every school, visiting homes, staffing a downtown clinic and the police department. Every mental malady possible is treated: drinking problems, family problems and mental disorders. Old people, young people, rich people or poor people--all of them are treated by this vast counseling organization.

The Community Health Awareness Council, one of seven organizations that will benefit from the Voice's Holiday Fund project this year, has been around since 1973, when local cities pitched in $40,000 to create an organization devoted to the mental health of people in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. It was an unusual service for cities to provide, said executive director Monique Kane, and still is. Now, those three cities contribute 10 percent -- about $250,000 -- of a $2.5 million annual budget.

The budget pays 45 staff members and 60 interns. As a bludgeoned economy wreaks havoc on people's lives, CHAC's services have been in high demand. The budget is up from $2.3 million last year due to an increase in services required.

"We are seeing a lot of families suffering," Kane said. "In Mountain View schools, we are seeing some kids who are homeless. That's really new this year."

A CHAC counselor at a Mountain View elementary school reports that "some of the kids are living out of cars" with their parents, Kane said.

No one is ever turned away from CHAC for lack of funds. Kane remembers one little girl who used to come with a quarter every week to the clinic at 711 Church St. A "sliding scale" is used, and some pay as little as $5 for an hour with a counselor.

The low cost is in large part due to the organization's use of interns: students of psychology who must do clinical work for 2,000 hours to earn their college degrees. Most are earning master's degrees, but some are going for a doctorate.

When Bruce Barsi retired from his job as a police officer two years ago, he became board president of CHAC.

"The police department can only do so much," Barsi said. "One of the best resources they have is to refer people to CHAC -- they can transform somebody."

CHAC recently became involved with the police department through a state grant for gang prevention and intervention. "Now we have two counselors at the police station," Kane said. The city matched the grant for additional police staffing to create Mountain View's "youth services unit," which went to work in August.

CHAC has been called on to counsel people involved in emergencies and traumatic events. Barsi remembers having to call CHAC counselors at the scene of a crime.

"There were some very difficult cases that resulted in traumatized kids," Barsi said. "It wouldn't be unusual for it to be in the wee hours of the morning and you would need somebody that had the expertise to deal with these crises. I knew Monique, called her up in the middle of the night and in 15 minutes she was there. Counselors dropped what they were doing to come and deal with crisis."

In a few months, CHAC will be better equipped to deal with emergencies. A mobile counseling office called the "CHAC mobile" has been paid for by El Camino Hospital.

CHAC's fundraising efforts are "so far so good" this year, but Kane worries about losing county funding in cuts expected next year. Santa Clara County pays CHAC to administer drug and alcohol counseling, a restorative justice program for those on probation, and an HIV prevention program.

Kane said the Voice's Holiday Fund donations will likely go towards maintaining school services, such as a "teen talk" group counseling program in the middle schools and school education programs about drugs, alcohol and living skills.

Donations to the Holiday Fund can be made by sending checks -- made out to "Voice Holiday Fund" -- to P.O. Box 405, Mountain View, CA 94042 or by clicking on the Holiday Fund link at MountainViewOnline.com. MV-Voice.com. For more information on the Holiday Fund, call the Voice at (650) 964-6300.

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