Prescott woman dedicates time, energy, and passion to raising awareness and money for the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic
By Hilary Dartt • Photos by A Portrait Park by J
When Laura Norman first signed on as an employee of West Yavapai Guidance Clinic (WYGC) 21 years ago, she knew she wanted to put her communication skills to work for a nonprofit organization.
Then, she realized how much work there was to be done around mental health in west Yavapai County, in terms of education awareness, and fundraising, and she got excited—and rolled up her sleeves.
Now, as the Chief Development and Communication Officer of WYGC, and the Executive Director of the WYGC Foundation, Laura said, “We’ve come a long way.”
WYGC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping residents of west Yavapai County obtain the mental health services they need to heal, grow, and thrive. With a nearly $40 million dollar budget, WYGC serves more than 7,000 people each year with a variety of inpatient and outpatient programs for adults and children.
“It’s still surprising how prevalent the need is,” Laura said, “but I believe we have some of the best services for a community of this size.”
“To a person,” she said, “my colleagues are an amazing group of talented people with unique experiences, who come together with the same goal: to help people.”
Carol Chamberlain, Regional Director of the Arizona Community Foundation of Yavapai County, said, “Laura is a bright, engaging, and warm woman who cares deeply about this community.”
More importantly, she said, Laura wraps her knowledge about mental health issues into every aspect of being: “She has a remarkable ability to weave things in.”
Laura said she developed this knowledge—and a commensurate passion for the field—over the course of her 21-year career with WYGC.
After she graduated with a communications degree from the University of Alabama in 1989, Laura worked in publishing for several years.
Then, she realized she wanted to use her skills to further the mission of an organization in the nonprofit sector, and she began working for the Family Guidance Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
In September 1995, she married Bob Norman, and they moved west. Bob had family in Prescott, and the Normans decided to make it their home too.
Caught up in the excitement of planning a wedding, Laura didn’t worry too much about her career, and when she arrived in Prescott, she found the job-hunting landscape a little sparse. She considered writing freelance, but didn’t think that was a good way to get settled in a new community.
Fortunately, there was an open position at WYGC, and she landed it.
Almost immediately, her enthusiasm took flight. She realized that mental illness and addiction have a staggering impact on families and communities, and she began working to increase awareness, raise money, and educate people.
This topic, she said, is “what I learn about, focus on, and invest myself in, to improve the health of the community.”
Her biggest teaching point: “People get better. Having mental illness or addiction doesn’t take you out of society. It just temporarily throws you a curve.”
And while people are comfortable going to the doctor when they have the flu or allergies, or a broken bone, Laura said, there is still a stigma around mental health issues.
“I hope that as a nation, communities invest in research for better treatment and a better understanding of the brain and how it works.”
“We know treatment works,” she said, and she added that the goal of WYGC is to get people the help they need to heal, grow and thrive.
To that end, the organization has dramatically expanded its services—and plans to continue doing so.
Perhaps most notably, in June 2017, WYGC opened its Crisis Stabilization Unit on East Eastridge Drive in Prescott Valley.
Its focus is on serving adults, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and people can walk in if they need help with substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, or any other mental health issue. There are observation chairs and beds for longer stays. Trained professionals are there to perform crisis screenings and help create a safety plan. Guardians can bring children who are in crisis for an outpatient assessment, even though they cannot be admitted.
Between June 21 and September 30, 665 people walked into the Crisis Stabilization Unit, 82 of whom were brought in by law enforcement.
This Unit, Laura said, “was the missing link.”
Before it opened, getting immediate help for people in crisis was “disjointed, depending on the time of day or the day of the week.”
Now, people can get help, right when they need it. And law enforcement officers have better options for helping people in crisis get the support they need (previously their only options were to take people to the emergency room or to take them to jail—and sometimes neither is a good option).
Laura is also particularly proud of the Windsong Center, the outpatient mental health services building on Windsong Drive in Prescott Valley (it’s next to the in-patient psychiatric hospital and the administration buildings).
It opened in 2000.
“I remember standing here, on empty land, with Ron Fain,” Laura said. At the time, only the Good Samaritan building existed along what would become the town’s health corridor, but the town—and WYGC—had plans to add health services. “That was an exciting time.”
At the Windsong Center, WYGC offers services for adults and children, including counseling, psychiatry, and, for adults only, primary care. This gives health professionals the ability to coordinate and offer integrative care. The building features a group room and a sensory playground for children on the autism spectrum.
While WYGC is a nonprofit community mental health center with significant contracts serving State and Federally funded clients, it operates also on tax-deductible donations, and grants.
“I have a vision that everyone in the community will think about the legacy they leave behind at the end of their life,” Laura said, adding that leaving a legacy gift through the Arizona Community Foundation of Yavapai County is one way people can ensure they leave a lasting positive impact on the community.
Laura has passion for the sustainability of WYGC, Carol said, adding that the Arizona Community Foundation of Yavapai County serves as a planned giving officer for WYGC Foundation.
“It’s so easy to leave a bequest or to include the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic Foundation in your estate plans,” she said.
Laura explained that in addition to making a tax-deductible donation to WYGC, people can help further WYGC’s mission by talking about and normalizing mental health issues and addiction. Also, people can help by developing an understanding that treatments are effective and recovery is possible.
“It would be nice to work myself out of a job,” Laura said, “but we’re not there, yet.”
For a full listing of WYGC’s services and locations, visit www.wygc.org or call 928.445.5211. People in crisis can walk into the Crisis Stabilization Unit at 8655 East Eastridge Drive in Prescott Valley or reach a crisis line at 1.877.756.4090.
To learn more about including WYGC Foundation in end-of-life planning contact Carol Chamberlain at the Arizona Community Foundation of Yavapai County at 928.708.9632.