Jacksonville University's Clinical Mental Health Counseling recognized with prestigious award

April 01, 2024

The Jacksonville University (JU) Department of Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) was recently awarded the 2024 Innovation in Counseling: Counselor Education Community Engagement Award from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), a leading organization for professional development in the field of counseling.

The award was presented to Dr. W. Bradley McKibben, Associate Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, at the 2024 NBCC Foundation Bridging the Gap Symposium in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes the department's community engagement and reciprocity across the curriculum, through direct engagement and collaborative scholarship. 

Dr. McKibben shared, “JU’s CMHC department embodies the spirit of this award through active community collaboration and involvement. Both faculty and students lead by example through volunteer work, leadership, scholarship, and community education and outreach. As a result, our students graduate with a unique connection to their communities and with a deep respect for collaboration as a practitioner.”

Since admitting its first cohort in 2016, the CMHC program has fostered a number of important partnerships, both on-campus and in the region, benefiting CMHC students and the greater community.

Over the past eight to 10 years, CMHC Department Chair and Associate Professor Dr. Natalie Indelicato has shared a consistent relationship with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, working with them in many capacities, including offering biannual training for their Girl Centered Practice program. The Policy Center has also become a trusted placement site for CMHC interns. 

Additionally, Dr. Indelicato has worked to secure multiple grants from community partners to address pressing issues in mental health. In 2023, in collaboration with Associate Dean of Applied Health Sciences, Dr. Whitney George, she secured $346,000 from Florida Blue and $25,000 from Mayo Clinic. The grants support scholarships for CMHC students who face financial barriers to address the shortage of underrepresented mental health professionals in Northeast Florida and the immediate need for mental health services in the community. 

In a similar effort to increase access to mental health services to marginalized communities, CMHC faculty member Dr. LaTonya Summers launched the JU Center for Men’s Wellness in 2023. The Center offers free mental health counseling to uninsured men living in Jacksonville’s 32209 zip code. Dr. Summers also coordinates the annual Black Mental Health Symposium, which equips mental health practitioners, students, and community advocates with culturally-responsive interventions to promote wellness among Black communities.

The department also promotes community engagement through its annual Practicum and Internship Fair, coordinated by Dr. Ne’Shaun Borden and Dr. Michelle Ellis, which facilitates connections for students and clinical partners from various agencies, school districts, college counseling centers and private practices. In addition to fostering a sense of community in the mental health sector, the event connects students to potential clinical sites for internships and employment. 

CMHC faculty in Palm Coast have also been promoting community engagement since the program launched in Flagler County. They have brought in mental health clinicians throughout Flagler and Volusia Counties to speak to students about needs affecting the local communities, allowing students to gain unique insights into the work they will be doing. 

For example, Flagler Open Arms Recovery Services provided free Narcan training to students in Dr. Kelley Holladay’s addiction course in summer 2023. Dr. Seneka Gainer has been actively speaking on mental health issues within the Black community through churches in Volusia County, and Dr. McKibben serves on the Board of Directors for the Volusia Recovery Alliance, a non-profit that provides peer support services and substance use recovery resources in Volusia County. Dr. Page Thanasiu coordinates CMHC’s Play Therapy certificate program, which partners with EmbrACE JAX for CMHC students to begin providing play therapy counseling sessions to underserved populations at local Head Start learning centers during their clinical year.

Dr. Indelicato said that the Community Engagement Award is an important recognition of the department’s achievements and faculty’s efforts. 

“Our faculty are honored by the recognition from NBCC, as it validates the hard work and dedication we have put into creating and sustaining relationships with students and community partners. It reflects positively on our entire team, who have worked collaboratively to grow the program to meet the critical demand for mental health professionals in our area. The award highlights our collective contributions, reinforcing our commitment to continued innovation and community engagement.”

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