Partner Spotlight: The Department of Mental Health and the Continuum of Care

Partner Spotlight: The Department of Mental Health and the Continuum of Care

2024 is the 75th anniversary of Mental Health Awareness Month. There are myriad connections between physical health, mental health, and the community. The social determinants of health, one of UProot’s two priority areas, affect mental health as much as they do physical health. 

The Continuum of Care

For the Mississippi State Department of Mental Health, the continuum of care (CoC) is for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

The DMH CoC provides three layers of care: Someone to talk to, someone to respond, and somewhere to go. The first layer, “someone to talk to,” is in the form of the national 988 hotline, and also a statewide DMH crisis line.

Someone to Talk To

The first layer of the CoC should be the one with the widest reach, the one that is easiest to access. For DMH, it’s as simple as a phone call, text message, or web chat. An easy-to-use, public-facing point of contact is important. For most groups, a phone number, email or contact form on a website is enough.

By the way, you can contact us!

Someone to Respond

For DMH, “someone to respond” is a “Crisis Intervention Team.”  They are partnerships between law enforcement officers and various agencies, including Community Mental Health Centers, primary health providers, and other behavioral health professionals. They are well-trained in crisis situations, and unlike traditional law enforcement officers, they receive hands-on instruction in de-escalation techniques. They are there to divert individuals from a possible arrest and get them into a setting where they can receive services for their illness.

Key takeaways for community organizations can be applicable. First, crisis teams come to the people who need them. Your organization can manage this by bringing portable versions of your services to people where they work, live, or play.

The second notable feature is that it represents an escalation of involvement from the previous example.

For a group promoting breastfeeding, for example, having a single point of contact to answer questions and email or text information would be the “someone to talk to.”  Then, your second layer of preparation would be “someone to respond.”

Your organization can build a presentation in a box – with flyers, banners, posters with QR codes, promotional merch – everything a knowledgeable, trained ambassador would need.

A great example of covering both “someone to talk to” and “someone to respond” would be Move to Learn. M2L has videos available for classrooms, but can also bring fitness exercises and movement-based learning boosters to schools across Mississippi.

Some Place to Go

For DMH, the third layer of the CoC—some place to go—is a statewide network of facilities. For people in a psychiatric crisis, they have Crisis Stabilization Units, which provide stabilization and treatment services, while for more general care, there is a network of Community Mental Health Centers.

“A place to go” has been a cornerstone for many of our UProot success stories. 

Consider Operation Shoestring. Without their facility, their life-improving after school programs could not exist. Their entire service is centered around being a place for their community. 

Similarly, the ARK in Jackson is a place people can go for fitness and education. Both of these organizations offer people who can come speak and work in the community, and have singular, easy-to-use points of contact, showing that the concept of a Continuum of Care isn’t just for dedicated healthcare professionals, but for any community looking to improve their social determinants of health.

A “place to go” doesn’t have to be brick and mortar: your website can provide a resource guide, for example, and many municipalities have a community center to host programming.

Community Tips

Your organization may not need all three steps of the continuum of care. They may need more than three. Consider having more than one level of response, whatever service you provide.

This continuum does not represent all of what the Department of Mental Health does. To learn more about the Department of Mental Health and its many forms of care, visit

To request specialized suicide prevention presentations from the Department of Mental Health’s “Shatter the Silence” program, visit Shatter the Silence or call 601-359-1288.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, the helpline mentioned earlier is available at 1-877-210-8513, at, or via the national 988 hotline.

If you know of someone out there who is working hard to make Mississippi a healthier place, let us know!

Utica Food Club: Fighting a Food Desert with Community Organizing

Utica Food Club: Fighting a Food Desert with Community Organizing

Access to quality food is crucial to UProot’s highest priorities: obesity and the social determinants of health (SDOH)

After a grocery store left Utica, Mississippi, residents organized to address the fact that their community had become a food desert.

Utica: From agricultural haven to food desert

Since the ’90s, the economy and population of Utica have been declining. Schools and plants closed, ending relationships with the local Sunflower grocery store and leaving fewer people to travel into town as customers. Finally, in 2014, the store closed, turning Utica into a food desert. The nearest grocery store was in Clinton, 30 miles away. 

In 2023, the Mississippi Free Press interviewed Jean Greene of Utica as part of a story on food deserts. When asked about the grocery store closure, she said, “It was an economic decision…  And so the rest of us paid the price for that economic decision.” 

Though the grocery store’s closure was the final step to becoming a food desert, it was a shock to long-time Utica residents. Like many towns in Mississippi, Utica has a long history of food production and agricultural education. 

Last century, Utica was home to the Utica Institute, founded in 1903 by William H. Holtzclaw, an agriculturalist whose mentor was Booker T. Washington. 

Holtzclaw sought to educate African Americans in Mississippi’s “Black Belt” by replicating the Tuskegee educational experience.

The Utica Institute became Utica Junior College, which merged with Hinds Community College in 1982. Until 2014, the town hosted the Hinds County Agricultural High School, part of the Hinds Community College system.

Utica only has a population of around 600. The town didn’t think a large grocer would be willing to come, so they investigated some alternatives.

The town organizes

Enter Sipp Culture, a group founded in Utica to use arts and culture to help the town solve its food crisis. They partnered with the municipal government and started a farm, a community garden, and a farmer’s market.

That was only their first step. They found another partner, the Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, and launched a program to support rural artists. This action earned them a large grant from One Nation/One Project, an organization that leverages the arts to create healthier people and communities.

“Sipp Culture believes that gathering and sharing local stories is the best way to support safe and thriving communities for the future.”

How did the community come together and start this project?

First, they gathered the community and listened. As demonstrated by Operation Shoestring, listening to the community is vital for any effort towards improving SDOH. Sipp Culture needed to see what the community wanted to do. They made sure that representatives from the culture, agriculture, business, education, and local government sectors were on hand when they held community meetings. 

Using those tools, they determined where people were shopping, and what drove their decision to do so. They discovered that people were driving up to an hour just to buy fresh meat and produce.

They then researched models for alternatives to big grocers. Many of the future members of the Utica Food Club had known of or done business with a cooperative grocery in Jackson. Others had used farmer’s markets and community gardens.

Then, they identified the items that people wanted to purchase in bulk. They focused on staple foods, which are easily transported and stored without refrigeration.

Next, they identified vendors who would sell them, and began the task of figuring out where these staple items – and harder-to-store things that would require refrigeration, could be housed. The storage question was helped by their partnership with the municipality, which knew what buildings were suitable for the project – and available.

After that, the group began to exchange information and ideas. They discussed strategies and techniques for storing and transporting food, preserving it and making bulk purchases. They coordinated those purchases, becoming a food-buying club. Food buying clubs are a way for individuals to purchase food at wholesale prices, and then split the purchases up, circumventing a traditional grocer.

While the buying club, farmer’s market, and community garden have all helped to address the food desert in Utica, there is much more to be done. For now, Sipp Culture and the Utica Food Club are researching more and seeking financial and educational support from the FDA, the USDA, and co-op support organizations. Their partnership with One Nation/One Project and the artists supported by Sipp Culture’s Rural Performance Production Lab have shown them the power of these relationships, and now they are seeking out local churches to recruit volunteers and further support.

In 2023, Sipp Culture hosted the international musical youth of OneBeat.

lessons for your community

The lessons learned from the Utica Food Club echo those of the ARK and Operation Shoestring: Teamwork and homework.

Listen to the community.

Identify partners.

Do the research.

Find a model you can emulate.

Every step was driven by community education and the equal exchange of information. Food deserts are a crisis in Mississippi, one that many UProot partners attempt to address.

If you know of someone out there who is working hard to make Mississippi a healthier place, let us know!

Operation Shoestring: Better Health through Listening

Operation Shoestring: Better Health through Listening

Nutrition, exercise, and mental health are critical when it comes to improving the health of your community.

Sometimes, finding a place to safely exercise can be hard. In 1968, this was the call to action for Operation Shoestring when local organizers wanted safe playgrounds in Jackson.

These days, Operation Shoestring is primarily known for quality after-school and summer programs for children in the neighborhoods of central Jackson. True to their history, the organization continues listening to community families for ways to help the community.

A Community Space for Connection

In addition to programming for children, Operation Shoestring offers workshops for parents. Parent programs began as a natural outgrowth of after-school activities. Organizers listened to the concerns of the parents while bringing or picking up their children and began tailoring programs to meet them.

These parents were able to guide the content of the parental workshops. Among other topics, they mentioned challenges that are familiar to public health professionals. Good food is expensive. Jobs and life leave little time for exercise. Safe places to exercise are unavailable. People need places where they can speak openly about mental health. 

“These parents are well aware of the challenges in their community,” said Alexandra Melnick, communications director at Operation Shoestring.

Parents wanted to learn ways to help handle these difficulties. They started a healthy eating workshop, which led to exercise classes, and even cooking classes where parents were offered squash, sweet potatoes, and other produce.

Qula Madkin, a registered dietitian and nutritionist teaching a healthy eating class, noted the parents’ desire to learn more. “There’s a barrier to information and how it is distributed,” Madkin said in 2023.

we all rise together

Healthy meal being prepared in a cooking class

At a class on healthy eating, parents get more than recipes: they also get fresh produce, kitchen essentials, and on-site child care.

Just as important, they get to cook, exercise, or talk together.

“Our classes are more than just a dump of information; what they need is a supportive environment,” Melnick said.

A community amplifies individual choices. When parents have a healthy diet and habits, they teach them to children. When parents try new exercises in front of others, the rest of the class learns when someone identifies what works for them.

“It lets the parents rethink their relationship with health,” Melnick said.

After all, the motto at Operation Shoestring is “We all rise together.”

Community Education Tips

If you want to support Operation Shoestring, you can. They rely 100% on the financial support of generous donors and partners. Check out their Twitter and Facebook pages, as well.

Find out how to support them here.

Have a success story of your own, or know of one? Contact us to help share the good news.

Good Homes and Good Health

Good Homes and Good Health

Social Determinants of Health are the factors that shape someone’s community: access to things like health care, education, employment, and nutrition. Those determinants aren’t just related to the outside world, however: they’re also found right in our homes. Good homes help good health. Shelter is a basic need for human beings. Extreme heat or cold can lead to stress, sickness, hospitalization, and death.

Here are some things to watch out for, and some resources that can help:

Building Contaminants

Old paint and pipes can contain lead that enters drinking water and household dust. Older building techniques and materials can release radon into the air inside a home. Leaks in the roof or pipes can cause mold, triggering asthma and other respiratory problems. Good ventilation is important for everyone.

UProot Partner Resources

The State Department of Health has information and programs for lead paint, mold, and other common contaminants.

If you want to help your community, consider hosting a healthy homes workshop through the Mississippi State University extension service.

Many factors that make a home safe and healthy are common to every dwelling. Every home and apartment needs smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. Many local fire departments offer free smoke alarms through projects administered by the state fire marshal. You can call your local fire department to find out when these offers are available.

Age-Related Home Risks

A healthy home can mean different things for different stages of life. New parents are often shown how a home can be made safer for infants and newborns.

However, falls in the home are a serious health risk among all age groups, especially for older people. For them, or for people recovering from surgery, stroke, or living with multiple sclerosis, changes like ramps, grab bars, and safety railings can prevent serious falls. For people with vision problems, lighting may need adjusting.

UProot Partner Resources

Hospital and medical care case workers can help you plan changes to make your home safer. The Mississippi Access to Care Network can help you find services for modifying homes for older adults. Go to the MAC website, search for services, check “home modifications” in the “services” box, and select the county of your choice.

Quality of Life

The physical condition of a house isn’t the only thing that affects the health of the people who live there. The condition of the neighborhood also has a role to play. Neighborhoods with properly maintained sidewalks encourage walking and fitness. Trees lower summer temperatures and improve moods. Parks and playgrounds get people outdoors and socially engaged. Lung-damaging air pollution tends to concentrate near factories and traffic.

Finally, the affordability of housing has an impact on health. Money spent on rent cannot be spent on quality food, medication, or doctor visits. Health can suffer when a large amount of income is tied up in rent.

Read a Success Story about how one neighborhood is improving its health through community gardening.

Do you have something to share about ways that communities can become healthier for their residents? Let us know about it!