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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about the Western Tidewater Community Services Board n examining what it is, what they do, who they help and what they have planned in the coming months.

Their motto is: “The purpose of life is a life with purpose.”

And they have found that calling in helping those in the community who oftentimes cannot help themselves. The people at the Western Tidewater Community Services Board work with people with mental retardation and those suffering from mental illnesses and substance abuse.

“They come because they care about what they’re doing,” said Demetrios Peratsakis, executive director of WTCSB. “We do God’s work, we really do.”

Headquartered at 5268 Godwin Blvd. near Dominion Virgina Power, WTCSB has a 300-member staff that serves the people of Suffolk, Isle of Wight County, Franklin and Southampton County in about a dozen different facilities.

WTCSB services include:

n 24/7 emergency psychiatric and crisis management services (the only organization in the area to do so)

n Case management/care coordination

n Medical, nursing and medication management

n Housing and complete residential support

n Counseling, anger management and substance abuse groups

n School-based services, such as counseling and tutoring

n Parent skill development workshops and education groups

n Jail-based services

n Alcohol and drug counseling and prevention services

n Community-wide youth initiatives

Despite all they have to offer, many people in the area are unaware that WTCSB exists, let alone what services are available, said Anita Morris, resource development coordinator with WTCSB. Some might have heard of the organization in its early days, but “Since 1971 when we first started, we’ve made a lot of changes,” she said.

WTCSB serves a population of 138,342, covering more than 1,300 square miles of southeastern Virginia. With an operating revenue of more than $16 million, the organization provided treatment for about 4,220 people this year. Roughly half of those people were Suffolkians.

About 61 percent of consumers received mental health services, 26 percent sought substance abuse help, and the rest utilized services for the mentally retarded.

The organization receives federal, state and local funding, as well as corporate and private donations. However, most of its revenue comes from fees charged, Peratsakis said, as the majority of clients are

insured through Medicare and Medicaid. They see people on a sliding scale, but do not turn away anyone in need; a lot of the work is done pro bono or is subsidized, he said.

The WTCSB partners with other community organizations, such as Suffolk Police Department, Department of Corrections, Department of Social Services, private physicians, local churches and more, to reach those in need.

Many clients hear of WTCSB through word of mouth, but police, jails and schools also make referrals, as does the Health Department and the Department of Social Services, Peratsakis said.

WTCSB officials are looking for ways to expand what they do. For example, currently they are working to try to start a free clinic to serve the area.

Also, in the last three years they have worked to increase their presence in the schools, working in a supportive role to guidance counselors,

Peratsakis said. WTCSB counselors help students develop healthy lifestyles, from eating habits to social skills and more.

“Kids have an enormous amount of pressure on them today,” he said.

Many are drug-, alcohol- or depression-prone, so when teachers or guidance counselors identify those in need, WTCSB counselors utilize a variety of methods, such as encouraging youth to get involved in sports and clubs, to help them feel better about themselves, Peratsakis said. They augment what school officials do for traditional developmental issues, but also can help students with bigger problems, such as pressure to join a gang or the death of a family member.

There are 40 community services boards throughout the commonwealth. They function as the gateway to publicly funded mental health, substance abuse and mental retardation services in their respective areas. The boards can provide services, from counseling to case management, directly or through providers. They also act as advocates for consumers to make sure they get the care they need.

Peratsakis said case management is a big component of what WTCSB does. Many clients are on some 15 medications and receive some eight to 10 services at once, so WTCSB case managers help coordinate their care, especially for those who have no family to do it for them.

Over the years, treatment for mental and behavioral problems has improved exponentially, especially as people become more educated and the stigma continues to slip away. Rather than locking people away in state hospitals and institutions, they can get the help they need via integrated community care, where they are treated in their own environment surrounded by the comfort and support of family and friends, Peratsakis said. Community services boards such as Western Tidewater make that happen.

“We’re a very important part of the safety network for our citizens.”