You’d think that with a population of over a million, there would be plenty of people lining up to fill the vacant volunteer spots in Fresno County’s approximately 90 boards and commissions. But that’s not always the case.
Some people are not aware of the easy application system. Others don’t know that the county supervisor in the district where they reside is responsible for making these appointments. Still others may not realize that being on a board or commission doesn’t necessarily require a lot of technical skills. Frequently you can learn while you serve, and thus it becomes not only an opportunity for civic engagement, but for your own education.
One of the more interesting places to serve is the Behavioral Health Board (BHB). It serves as a liaison between the Department of Behavioral Health and the public, encouraging input from residents to help the department know what programs and services are working well and where there are unfilled needs. Behavioral health covers mental health needs as well as substance use disorders such as drugs and alcohol. Applicants for BHB membership may be clients – people who have used these services or are using them presently – or their family members. Professionals in the field of behavioral health may apply, as may any county resident who has a sincere interest in supporting these programs while learning more about them.
Right now there are several vacancies on the BHB. Each of the five county supervisors is empowered to appoint two members from his/her district, and there are also five at-large positions to be appointed by any of the supervisors, for a maximum of 15 members.
The board meets from 2:30 - 4:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month. The agenda usually involves a success story from a client or program; a review of one of the many dozens of programs under the direction of Department Executive Director Dawan Utecht; a report on a site visit to that program by BHB members; and other business that comes before the board.
Members attend monthly meetings and may also volunteer to attend monthly meetings of subcommittees that focus on adult, children or justice services. Other responsibilities may include visiting department programs and reporting back to the Board on their observations; sponsoring public forums to enhance opportunities for public input on what behavioral health services are working well and what more are needed, as well as visiting individual members of the Board of Supervisors to update them on the BHB’s goals and concerns. The next public forum is scheduled for June 14 at the Betty Rodriguez Library from 5:30 to 7 p.m. How do free pizza, snacks and beverages sound to accompany the conversation?
Board members also are charged with fulfilling duties under the state Welfare and Institution Code. These include evaluating the community’s mental health needs, services, facilities, and special problems; reviewing county contracts for programs and services; and inclusion in the selection process for mental health director.
These duties may seem daunting, but in fact each board member does not take on all of these responsibilities. In addition to the required monthly BHB meeting, the majority of members spend perhaps an additional several hours a month on related duties.
And pleasant surprises occur. As BHB members entered their meeting room in April, the sounds of drumming filled the air and had everyone nodding and tapping. A drumming circle is one of the non-traditional therapies used by the Department of Behavioral Health and clients and staff members were demonstrating their skills. Research in the fields of music therapy and mental health indicates that drumming reduces tension, anxiety and stress, helps control chronic pain, boosts the immune system, induces deep relaxation, lowers blood pressure, and provides an opportunity for participants to share interpersonal support. After their performance the drummers spoke about the positive impact the drumming circle had on their lives.
Now is a great time to consider volunteering for the BHB or other county boards. Among the more esoteric are the Association for Beautification of Highway 99, the Indian Gaming Local Benefit Committee, the Airport Land Use commission, and the Foreign Trade Zone Advisory Board. Or perhaps you would prefer the Facilities Planning Commission, the Economic Development Commission, the Historic Parks Advisory Committee, or the Pleasant Valley State Prison Citizens Advisory Committee.
People who volunteer at least 100 hours a year have been judged to be the healthiest individuals while building social bonds, increasing self esteem, improving their own mental health and serving their community.
Francine Farber is a retired school district administrator and a fulltime community volunteer. She is a member and secretary of the Fresno County Behavioral Health Board and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. BHB applications can be found on-line at the county website or may be obtained by calling 559-600-3529.