Shepard said ARROW has partnered with local schools and universities.

It’s 2018. Sabrina Burress is at Charles Shepard’s house, having dinner and spitballing ideas about starting a mental health clinic. Since the two had previously worked for Compass Behavioral Solutions together, they knew what the system was like — they knew they wanted to change it.

Burress and Shepard have known each other since 2011 and began their endeavor to create a new model for mental health clinics in 2018. At their previous employer, they both said, they worked with those of low socioeconomic status.

“We got an up-front view of where the holes in the system were,” Shepard said. “We were just motivated to take our experience and what we had a chance to witness and improve what was available so that fewer people fell through the cracks in our local area.”

In March 2018, the ARROW Project was born. Standing for Augusta Resources for Resilience, Opportunity and Wellness, ARROW is a nonprofit organization that seeks to expand “mental health treatment possibilities” within Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro, according to its website.

Burress, ARROW’s executive director, said the nonprofit’s mission is not only to provide services to those with barriers to mental health service access, but also to train and supervise those who are interested in the mental health field. Shepard, ARROW’s clinical director, said its team has about 15 clinical staff members in addition to volunteers and student interns. He said ARROW has focused on building a diverse staff so that those who come to counseling can work with someone with a similar lived experience.

“We really have this lovely presentation of diversity,” Burruss said. “It’s so important that you’re comfortable and safe and trust the person that’s sitting in front of you.”

Many of ARROW’s staff and interns are students at Eastern Mennonite University completing their 100-hour practicum or 600-hour internship requirement as a part of the university’s master’s in counseling program. Michael Horst, the program’s director, said the students experience much growth through their clinical work at the nonprofit.

“We’re so grateful to be able to collaborate with the ARROW Project because they provide much needed services to our communities,” Horst said. “Sabrina Burruss and Charles Shepard are just delightful to work with, and they’re tremendous supervisors for our students.”

In addition to providing counseling services, Burruss said ARROW partners with community organizations and develops programming specific to the needs of those organizations. These organizations include the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center, local Boys and Girls Clubs and the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA, according to the website.

Shepard said ARROW has also partnered with local schools and universities. Last year, the nonprofit collaborated with Thrive at JMU to provide election detox groups for students who were feeling stressed about the 2020 presidential election.

After the death of George Floyd last summer, Burress said she felt heavy grief and wanted to turn that into something productive for ARROW. She said it was a “moment of reckoning” for the country to see how present racism still is, and she wanted to be a part of changing that. She said ARROW’s done workshops at its local hospital about race and healthcare disparities, and discussions for college students impacted by the country’s ongoing racial tension.

As a Black woman, Burress said, there can be a stigma surrounding Black mental health. Since she was raised in a single-parent household by a “strong Black woman,” and having raised her own children as a single mother, Burruss said it was hard for her to make mental wellness a priority.

“I think a lot of what I was raised and learned and what I brought into my own parenting style was this idea that our first main objective is to survive in a society with systems that were not created for us to be successful, so we don’t have time, necessarily, to be talking about mental health,” Burruss said.

In addition to her two sons, Burruss said she considers ARROW her “last child.” She said she puts the same “passion, energy and determination” into the nonprofit that she’s put into raising her children. Shepard said ARROW is a “meaningful” way for him to fulfill his dream of helping others.

“Knowing that I come from relative privilege and my cup kind of runneth over, and I had something extra to give to people who didn’t get enough … the creation of the ARROW Project has really been a thrill,” Shepard said. “Not only do I get to work with one of my best friends, but I get to serve people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to quality support.”

Contact Kamryn Koch at kochkr@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.