From 10 clients at the start of the year to over 100, Growing Edges Community Clinic is living up to its name and is continuing to grow its mental health services. Shippensburg University Counseling Department graduate students working there are growing their careers, too.
The clinic is the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, according to Dr. Ford Brooks, professor of Counselor Education, who has been a part of Growing Edges Community Clinic since its opening in 2008. Today, the clinic is helping to fill a critical need within the greater Shippensburg community.
“Due to the pandemic, there was a large need for mental health services, and, due to this need, people had to be put on six-month waiting lists for counseling and were not able to receive the care that they needed,” said Brooks.
The 14 counselors working at the clinic are graduate and doctoral students who are putting their training to work as they prepare for their future careers.
According to Kelly Dryzal, a doctoral student and clinical supervisor at the clinic, “there is a mental health crisis that makes it extremely hard for people to get mental health services.”
According to a May 17, 2023, media release from Governor Josh Shapiro’s Office, more than 40 percent of Pennsylvania students reported symptoms of depression in 2021. Shapiro has prioritized investments in mental health resources for schools and universities.
At the Growing Edges Community Clinic, 50-minute sessions are available virtually and in-person to the community of Shippensburg. They offer individual counseling for children, adolescents, and adults, as well as couples counseling, family therapy, and counseling for sexual and gender identity, abuse, neglect, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, parenting, and relationships.
Neysa Thomas, a graduate student working at Growing Edges Community Clinic, said that “it is great to see the people that I am in the classroom with take the next step and have clients. We’re a great team.” Thomas leads “Healthy Decisions,” weekly day-long group counseling sessions at Shippensburg, Boiling Springs, and Big Spring middle schools for “high-risk” students.
Younger children are graduate student Roshon Jackson’s favorite group of clients. Along with counseling younger children through the school districts as well as in the clinic, Jackson said he sees “clients who are dealing with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dealing with complex grief, and haven’t processed their grief for over 10 years.”
Brooks said the purpose of the clinic is to “serve the community’s needs,” as many individuals struggle to get help due to lack insurance and growing frustration over long waiting lists for care.
The clinic, Jackson said, “gives adults a chance for counseling without the difficulties of wait lists and insurance, offering strictly free services.” Jackson helps community members “work through depression and anxiety.”
Grant support has been key to the success of Growing Edges. In 2020, Shippensburg University, along with Lock Haven, East Stroudsburg, and Edinboro Universities were awarded the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Child Development and Early Learning grant for $5.9 million for the creation of the Early Childhood Education Professional Development Organization.
With the support of the grant, Growing Edges provides no-cost, virtual counseling support services to students enrolled in the Professional Development Organization. The purpose of this partnership is to enhance the selfcare practices of educators.
In 2023, the clinic was awarded a grant from WellSpan Health to support their efforts of expanding the clinic to offer more days and times for clients to receive services and open a second location. Through a partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, Growing Edges opened a second location in a building owned by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 21 North Prince Street. The location saw its first clients in May and on June 30 officially opened with an open house celebration.
The new location is “comfortable and cozy,” according to Dryzal and features toys, books, and games, essential tools for working with elementary and middle school-aged children.
At this location, clients also have easy access to additional resources. The Circle of Love Community Outreach Program offers clothing, personal care items, and other basic living essentials for those in need. The St. Andrew’s Community Garden and Food Distribution Site offers fresh produce and food distribution for food insecure individuals in the community.
The most important feature of the new clinic though is its accessible location. According to Dryzal some clients may be uncomfortable going to campus for services, as they are not familiar with the space.
“Comfort sends the message that our client’s needs are important to us,” added Dryzal.
That comfort is important as well, as the clinic staff work to overcome the negative stigma that sometimes surrounds mental health in Pennsylvania.
“It’s gotten better, but we still have a ways to go. It is also very important to make sure that mental health care professionals are getting support and care, too,” added Dryzal.
And Growing Edges is just that, a supportive and caring learning environment for student mental health professionals, growing professionals and growing communities.
About Growing Edges Community Center ship.edu/growing_edges
The Growing Edges Community Center is a cost-free community counseling clinic available to residents of the Shippensburg area and surrounding communities.
• Individual counseling for children, adolescents, and adults
• Couples counseling
• Play therapy for children
• Family therapy
• Approximately 50-minute sessions
• Advanced graduate students in Shippensburg University’s master’s program in counseling.
• Student counselors are supervised weekly by licensed professional counselor faculty members.