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House of Mercy receives major naming gift to expand mental health center

House of Mercy announced today it has received a $492,000 estate gift, the largest private contribution in its 31-year history. 

The gift from the late Joseph and Dorothy Schuster will be used to fund the Joseph and Dorothy Schuster Mental Health Center at MercyOne House of Mercy. The new facility will enable the organization to double its outpatient mental health and substance abuse counseling services and provide enhanced amenities for family counseling.

Expected to open by spring 2020 in a refurbished space on House of Mercy’s main campus in Des Moines, the center will provide an estimated 9,000 additional hours of annual appointment times. That translates to expanding services to approximately 900 new clients each year, say MercyOne officials. 

Located at 1409 Clark St. in Des Moines, the nonprofit provides safe housing and support services for women and their children dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues, along with a nationally accredited mental health treatment program. The counseling services, available to both House of Mercy residents and the public, are provided by master’s-level licensed therapists and board-certified psychiatrists. 

The project will repurpose a vacant wing that had been leased to a child care center until about three years ago, said Rebecca Peterson, House of Mercy’s executive director. 

“This is the most significant renovation project we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Peterson, who was hired as a resident counselor 12 years ago and was named director in March 2017. 

Through its planning processes, House of Mercy determined that reducing significant waiting times for mental health counseling visits — which can currently be four to eight weeks — was the best use of the space, she said. “Our goal is that we would have immediate openings.” 

With the new center, House of Mercy plans to hire at least seven additional mental health therapists, Peterson said, including more master’s-level therapists and additional psychiatrists through Mercy’s psychiatry residency program. 

The center, which will be designed and built by Downing Construction of Indianola, will include eight offices for clinicians to meet with clients, a consulting room for psychiatric appointments, a children’s play therapy room, an observation room for students in training and a reception area. It will also have a dedicated space for child therapy and a variety of resources for family-focused therapy.  

“We’re most excited about our ability to treat the whole family for mental health,” Peterson said. “This will provide space to do family therapy and play therapy. We’re going to be adding child-parent psychotherapy. Just having the space to allow us to do those services is going to be a great addition to House of Mercy and for the community.”  

Peterson said the gift from the Schuster estate will fund the majority of the renovation cost, which is estimated at $600,000. 

Dorothy Schuster, formerly of Des Moines, died in June 2018 at the age of 96 in Wisconsin. Her children desired for the funds to support struggling families. Her husband, Joseph, was a lifelong Des Moines resident and had owned Schuster Real Estate Co. He died in 1999 at the age of 92. 

“Joseph and Dorothy were incredible, loving, generous people,” said Audrey Off, daughter of Dorothy Schuster. “We’ve always been amazed by Mom’s resourcefulness and strength and by Joe’s love and generosity. We are very excited for the new Mental Health Center and how it will transform the lives of thousands of individuals in the years to come.” 

In addition to the Schuster gift, the center is also made possible through a $100,000 Leadership Grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, a gift from GuideOne Foundation and Prairie Meadows, among other contributors.

To read a Business Record Insider interview from 2017 with Rebecca Peterson, click here.

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