Yesterday, I received word of my appointment to a three-year term of service on the governing board of the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services (RRCS). RRCS is a publicly supported agency that provides a wide range of social services in the five-county region lying just north of Charlottesville, Virginia. As one of three representatives from Fauquier County where I reside, I’ll serve on the 15-member board that governs the agency and promotes support for its objectives.
The RRCS is a broad-based organization with programs for infants and youth, adults, and seniors in a broad range of areas that include mental health, substance abuse, and developmental disability services, as well as services for the aging.
This is an appointment I had eagerly sought for several years. I am, therefore, both gratified and excited to have received it. My reasons derive from my personal experiences with the mental health system over the two decades I’ve been involved with it. It has now been 20 years since I found myself in a life-threatening situation from which I was only saved by the support I received from caring mental health professionals. Because of that support and also because of my lifelong belief in the requirement that citizens should give back to the community that supports them, I have felt a strong need to give something back myself.
I was fortunate to have both insurance and the personal resources to use privately paid services for my support and recovery from depression and other conditions. But many in our society are not so fortunate and lack both the insurance and personal resources to afford private services. As a result, they depend on public agencies such as the RRCS for the help they require.
Mental health and substance abuse services, in particular, are woefully underfunded and understaffed nationally, and my region is no exception to this pattern. Some areas, in fact, offer no public services at all, so my region is fortunate to offer at least basic services.
Two challenges loom large in this area of work. One is the widespread but erroneous belief that illnesses that are brain-based or derived from chemical dependency somehow reflect individual flaws and failures. The other is the equally widespread failure to comprehend that wise investments in social services yield significant positive returns in both national productivity as well as quality of life.
It is my hope that in this new role I will not only help to manage the RRCS so that it is both efficient and effective but also to make the public case that mental health and substance abuse services, among others RRCS provides, are both valuable and good civic investments in a well-functioning economy and society. To that end, I expect to write much more about these issues in the future.
As it is said in Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, . . .” In my life, it is now the time to give back.