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DuPage County Health Department breaks ground on new community center

WHEATON – The DuPage County Health Department hopes a new construction project will make the care it provides more inclusive and all-encompassing.

The department and several partner agencies broke ground Thursday on its new $11 million, 33,000-square-foot community center.

"We are on the cusp of not just breaking ground, but blazing a trail," said department board President Linda Kurzawa. "[The center] will be a collaborative effort, broadening the services that we do out into the community."

The project, located at 111 N. County Farm Road, is seven years in the making and will be funded almost completely by department savings, said Director Karen Ayala. Partner organization National Alliance on Mental Illness of DuPage County provided $1 million as a sort of "buy-in" to the shared space, said alliance Executive Director Angela Adkins.

The goal of the center is to provide holistic support for those using its services – the demand for which has risen in recent years, Ayala said.

"The building is being built with cash – cash that we have prudently saved, struggled [for], always with the thought in mind that there are citizens to be served and it is the taxpayers of DuPage County that provide that," Kurzawa said.

Set to open next fall, the space will include a gym, courtyard, kitchen, multipurpose space and offices for both the department and the alliance.

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said the idea of consolidating and streamlining services between public and private entities was not new to the county and that the partnerships forged would "share our goal of wellness for all."

Adkins said the new facility would help participating agencies improve care, particularly in the world of mental health where "medicine and therapy ... doesn't do it on its own."

She said five years ago, her agency was seeking to expand services to better fit the needs of its population, especially in the realms of housing, employment and social programs.

When she conversationally mentioned that desire to the health department, it became a natural partnership.

"Social recreation is really going to be where the health department services sort of start to taper off and ours will pick up," Adkins said. "It's a complete flow – we anticipate this building will be operational 24/7."

She said by partnering with groups such as the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, Wheaton Park District and Bridge Communities, the center could synergize several resources to help to those with different levels of need.

Ultimately, Adkins said, she hopes its presence in the community will bring volunteers to assist with programming and normalize mental illness.

"We'll go to the community for artists and different community members who have something to offer," she said. "We're going to reach out to the community at large ... which ultimately will really heighten the awareness and lessen the stigma. And that's really what we want to do."

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