1948 – Present

A History of Community Mental Health Services

Ascend Mental Wellness formerly known as WWAMH (Warren Washington Association for Mental Health) began 75 years ago.

Rising out of a voluntary community group in 1948, ASCEND Mental Wellness has grown into a dynamic service organization with a rich history.

Each day, ASCEND positively contributes to our community by providing mental health services and support to many children, adolescents, and adults. ASCEND also contributes to our community’s economic well-being by employing a sizable workforce in our neighborhoods.

We at ASCEND remain committed to speaking and advocating for all people in our community who live with mental disorders.

Grassroots Beginnings

Established in 1948, a group of local citizens formed the “Glens Falls Mental Hygiene Association”, a private, not-for-profit corporation, to promote mental health in this area.

As we build the foundations to help individuals within the community our name and face need to reflect the evolution of our programs and services. “Warren County Mental Hygiene Association” ultimately became AMH or WWAMH – the “Warren- Washington Association for Mental Health, Inc.” in 1957. Today we see name change yet again to our future as “Warren Washington Association for Mental Health, Inc.” is now ASCEND Mental Wellness.

Our original intent was to provide education in mental health issues, and attract mental health professionals to the area. A specific goal of the early organization was to establish a “neuro-psychiatric clinic”.  While establishing a permanent clinic took some time, ASCEND was successful in accomplishing these goals.

Leading The Way

The Agency and Glens Falls Hospital in the 1960’s developed a mental health center.  ASCEND was the grantee for funding to begin this project. The Mental Health Center separated from the Agency in 1970.

In 1973, the organization’s mission changed to include advocacy for a broad range of supportive services. This included the creation of a social club for mental health disorders. In that year, Liberty House formed under the Agency’s direction.  Once the program became established, it turned over to an independent Board of Directors, and it became a freestanding entity in 1975.

Hospital To Home

The Glens Falls Hospital Mental Health Center asked the Agency in 1977 to consider developing a halfway house. This resulted from people discharged from the local inpatient unit and state facilities. This was near the beginning of the deinstitutionalization movement, where state psychiatric hospitals reduced services and sent people back to their communities. To accommodate the increased need, ASCEND agreed to work on the development of a residential program and amended its incorporation documents accordingly.

The next year, 1978, the agency hired a permanent, full-time Executive Director. Genesis, the first residency program in our community, opened in November. Genesis housed eight residents and staffed by the Executive Director and three counselors.

Service Growth

Within the first year of operation, it was apparent that the community needed a variety of residential programming; so, work began on a “satellite” apartment program. In 1980, the first apartments opened with one staff person. The discussion of creating a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) program began in 1980. These discussions culminated in 1984 with the creation of the Maple Street Program.

In the meantime, other services expanded. In 1982, the first formal case management activities began development with one full-time person. In the same year, the Satellite Apartment Program expanded by two staff members to seven apartments and fifteen residents. The next year this program grew to include twenty-four residents. The number of staff remained the same.

The Maple Street Apartment Program opened in 1984, adding an innovative concept to the Agency’s housing configuration. This program added eight apartments for twelve residents on a single site along with one staff for the satellite program.

In 1985, a psychosocial club – South Street Center, on South Street in Glens Falls started development. This was an innovative, client-centered program that became very popular and grew rapidly. It now serves between 70 and 80 members a day, located at 230 Maple Street in Glens Falls. A name change to East Side Center was due to the renovated and improved site. Case Management also changed into a distinct program and grew to two and one-half staff.

The following year, 1986, was busy: the Office of Mental Health (OMH) proposed a new “concept model” for community residences. Program requirements changed and staffing levels increased across all residences. Genesis moved to its present site, increasing its size to house eleven residents and plans began for another group home in Hudson Falls. In 1987, another residence, Pearl Street, opened its doors providing housing for 14 residents.

Accessible Care

In 1988, the Community Services Board of Warren and Washington counties asked the Agency to consider developing and operating an outpatient mental health service. This could provide more accessible outpatient services for adults, children, and families in the two counties. In the Spring of 1989, Caleo Counseling Services began and quickly had more customers than it could serve. Today, Caleo operates satellite clinics in addition to the original Hudson Falls clinic site.

In 1992, facing an increasingly complex service and regulatory environment, the Agency developed a “Strategic Plan” and a process for continuing planning for the future. Toward the end of that year, plans began for a Supported Apartment Program. This would provide relatively independent living with formal case management services. This program now serves over 28 people.

Self Help

In the mid-’90s, the Agency worked with consumers to develop peer-run services and a group called Consumer Voices formed. In 1998, “Consumer Voices” became incorporated with its own Board of Directors under the revised name Voices of the Heart (VOH).

Today, although Voices of the Heart is no longer in operation, a new program operated by People Inc. called the Warren/Washington Rose House provides Peer Support & Counseling, Direct Linkages, Wellness Team Building, Peer Support Groups, Wellness And Recovery Tools Education, Social Inclusion, a Warm Line (24/7) and offers a Site-Based Hospital Diversion / Crisis Respite that is a self-referral short-term stay residence.

New Initiatives

In 1998 two new case management program concepts began development: the Crisis Outreach Program providing case management for children and adolescents and the Dual Recovery Program for people with combined mental illness and chemical dependence disorders. In 1999, after receiving a grant from both the Office of Mental Health and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Dual Recovery continued to grow.

In keeping with the Agency’s mission of mental health advocacy and education, a group to fight stigma formed in 2000. This was following the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health. This group soon became known as the Coalition for Mental Health Advancement (COFAMH). The group consisted of local mental health service providers and stakeholders.

With the goal of consolidating and improving service facilities ASCEND embarked on its first-ever Capital Campaign to raise funds for the Maple Street project. The agency purchased, an abandoned factory and surrounding property at 230 Maple Street in Glens Falls with the plan of reconstructing the factory. This was to house our psycho-social club, case management offices, and the Office of Community Services.

In January 2004 the new facility opened its doors not only to an improved site but to new collaborations among consumers, staff, and programs. This site can expand and develop in the future.

In keeping with ASCEND’s philosophy of collaboration, a Housing Coalition formed in 2004. Facilitated by the Dual Recovery Coordinator, the coalition focuses on housing for the homeless and low-income populations. This group has been influential in helping to apply for and receive housing funds and Shelter Plus Care housing subsidies through HUD and administered through the Office of Community Services. These subsidies are now available to serve homeless individuals with mental illness.

A long-needed housing initiative began in 2005 to develop a single site, permanent apartment program serving people with mental illness and co-occurring disorders. In 2009 the Housing First program opened with 18 apartments along with community and office space. The Homeless Housing Assistance Program made this project possible. Housing First is in Hudson Falls, NY located next to the Agency’s administrative building.

Caleo Counseling currently provides therapy services in multiple school districts and community health centers. This enables greater accessibility to services, especially for rural clients.

The Future…

In simple terms, mental health can be defined as how one thinks, feels and acts throughout life. Emotional, behavioral and psychiatric disturbances can be defined as thinking, feeling and acting in ways that are often hurtful to self or others and cannot be controlled.

Although finding effective solutions is often complex, the need to improve our community’s mental health is fundamental to all aspects of our community’s well-being.

New initiatives will continue….

  • As treatment and prevention research and knowledge increase.
  • As society becomes more educated about, and accepting of, mental illness.
  • As cultural practices and beliefs no longer created debilitating barriers to caregivers and receivers.
  • As funding reflects the importance of our nation’s mental health.

ASCEND will continue its mission to help put the pieces in place by focusing on programs and services that meet our community’s mental health needs.