Praising Gov. Jay Nixon and the state legislature for their steadfast support, Freeman and Ozark Center administrators officially opened Will’s Place, a healing center for children made possible by a $2 million allocation from the state.
JOPLIN, Mo.—Praising Gov. Jay Nixon and the state legislature for their steadfast support, Freeman and Ozark Center administrators officially opened Will’s Place, a healing center for children made possible by a $2 million allocation from the state in the weeks following the May 22 tornado. Gov. Nixon was present for the opening of the center, which was named in memory of Will Norton, a Joplin youth tragically killed during the storm.
Mere weeks after the May 22 tornado, Gov. Nixon announced that his administration and the state legislature had allocated $2 million to establish a child trauma treatment center in Joplin. Ozark Center, the behavioral health division of Freeman, then designed the center in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
Paula Baker, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer, said Will’s Place will help heal the wounds of May 22. During a ceremony held January 10, she expressed her gratitude to Gov. Nixon and Missouri’s political leaders for their unwavering support of Joplin and, more importantly, its children.
“The homes and businesses that lay in ruins were perhaps the most obvious signs of destruction, but, in some ways, they were the least significant,” Baker said. “Crawling out from beneath those homes and businesses were our children. They, too, had been torn down. They, too, needed to be put back together. I want to thank Gov. Nixon and our state legislature for their help in ensuring our children have a place to heal.”
Located at 1800 West 30th Street, Will’s Place will house, under one roof, all mental health services for children offered by Ozark Center and Freeman. The center will treat children, from infants to the age of 21, who have experienced trauma, who have mental health symptoms, or who have behavioral concerns. Will’s Place will offer children and their families greater access to experts in the field of trauma and behavioral health, treating children who have undergone any form of trauma, tornado-related or not.
Will’s Place features play rooms with state-of-the-art electronic equipment that will improve Ozark Center’s ability to monitor, record, and analyze the behavior of children. More than 50 Ozark Center employees will be located in the center, including the region’s only child and adolescent psychiatrists and nurse practitioners, the area’s first psychologist/forensic evaluator, seven clinical therapists, and 20 in-home case managers.
Through Will’s Place, Ozark Center will also place more emphasis on educating and training the general public and personnel from schools, churches, and day care centers on trauma-related issues.
More than 3,500 Joplin children lost their homes and schools on May 22, said Vicky Mieseler, Ozark Center Vice President of Clinical Services. More than 3,000 families impacted by the storm currently live in temporary housing; of those, 500 are in FEMA-assisted modular homes.
“Though more than seven months have passed since the storm, our children continue to have difficulty adjusting to the sudden and drastic life changes that occurred on May 22,” said Mieseler. “But with every disaster comes opportunity—opportunity such as the one presented to us by Gov. Nixon and the state legislature. Thanks to the funding they provided, our community will have greater and improved access to services for children.”
Phil Willcoxon, Ozark Center Chief Executive Officer, said it is an honor to name this place of healing after Will Norton and in recognition of all children who died during the heartbreaking events of May 22. An inspiring young man, Norton was a gift to all who knew him. Norton had graduated from Joplin High School just hours before the storm struck.
“In the days since May 22, Trish Norton, Will’s mother, has so often said ‘Live your life like Will,’” Willcoxon said. “It is our hope that all children who seek treatment within these walls may find the same love and enthusiasm for life that Will did.”
To contact Will’s Place, call 417.347.7580.
About Freeman Health System
Not-for-profit, community-owned, and locally governed, Freeman Health System is a 407-bed, three-hospital system. Based in Joplin, the fourth largest metropolitan area in Missouri, Freeman provides comprehensive healthcare and behavioral health services to an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com or facebook.com/freemanhealthsystem. Follow Paula Baker, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer, at twitter.com/freemanceo.
About Ozark Center
An integral component of Freeman Health System based in Joplin, Missouri, Ozark Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults, and families in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the mental health needs of the community and promote awareness of mental illness in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit ozarkcenter.com or call 417.347.7600.