August 2, 2018 is an important date for OTC students Todd Maynard and Keshia Guffey. The two, along with eight others in their cohort, will be the first to graduate from OTC’s new Behavioral Health Support program.
“That day will be the culmination of all my hard work and determination,” said Keshia. “I’ve found a career I’m passionate about that allows me to support my family as a single mom.”
Todd, also a single parent, says the degree will help him set a positive example for his young daughters.
“Before this program, I was a jack of all trades, master of none,” he said. “I went back to school to show my daughters the importance of furthering their education, and all the opportunities that come along with doing that.”
OTC’s Behavioral Health Support program debuted in the spring of 2017 thanks to a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The college created the degree pathway at the request of community partners and the Missouri Department of Mental Health. The program was designed specifically to meet the growing need of local employers within the human services field. All of the students in the program’s first cohort were eligible for Ozarks’ Promise grant funding, which is a tuition-free health care training program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We’ve worked hard to provide our community partners with highly skilled and knowledgeable employees,” said Amy Shelley, director of OTC’s BHS program. “I am so proud of our graduating class, and I look forward to seeing how they positively impact the community by assisting individuals with mental health and substance-use disorder needs.”
At graduation, Todd, Keshia and their classmates will receive an Associate of Applied Science in Behavioral Health Support. The graduates will be prepared to work in entry and mid-level positions at human services agencies including mental health treatment facilities, schools or correctional facilities. Many will find jobs helping those with mental illness or substance-use disorders maintain emotional and mental stability. They will work to equip these individuals with the tools and resources needed to develop a more satisfying and productive life.
Mathew Gass, the director of Transitions at Burrell Behavioral Health, says OTC’s BHS graduates are filling a critical gap in the community. Burrell, along with several other local human service agencies, partnered with OTC to provide its BHS students with valuable, hands-on practicum experiences as part of the degree program.
“This program is the first associate degree in the state designed to train students in case management,” Mathew said. “By hosting these students for a wide variety of field practicums, we’ve seen firsthand the type of training they have received. These graduates will be able to enter the workforce with specific skill sets that include specialized skills for community support and soft skills like communication and problem solving, all of which will help address needs across the populations we serve.”
Keshia has already received a job offer for a community support specialist position at Burrell. She says she’s confident in her skills and abilities thanks to the practicum-heavy nature of the degree.
“This program is so hands-on – we hit the ground running right away,” Keshia explained. “By graduation, we will have spent 360 hours observing and working with behavioral health professionals. And that’s so important to me, because I know that the more experience I can get as student, the better equipped I will be in the field.”