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With the Boys & Girls Club, Amerigroup Takes on Mental Health in Rural Texas

young woman speaking to clinician

The Boys & Girls Club in Vernon is a lifeline for the North Texas young people who use it.

Girls and boys bus-in from as far as 30 miles away to take advantage of the Club’s resources. As much as 80% of the Vernon community (population roughly 10,000) has, at one point or another, plugged into the resources that the Boys & Girls Club offers.

Amerigroup Texas is a longtime supporter of the Vernon Boys & Girls Club. Serving about 500 kids a day at multiple locations, it embodies our work creating innovative partnerships that redefine health and fortify communities.

So when the Boys & Girls Club found itself on the front lines of the mental health challenges facing communities across Texas, we leapt at the chance to help.

As the pandemic set in, staff at the Boys & Girls Club noticed changes in the mental health of the young men and women it served. Kids had more anxiety; some didn’t want to be in social settings. Coping skills suffered, and drug and alcohol use grew increasingly worrisome.

A lack of access added to the problem. Like communities across Texas, Vernon lacks licensed clinicians and therapists who can treat these mental health issues.

In response, Amerigroup connected the Boys & Girls Club with a nearby Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). The clinic had licensed mental health clinicians who could serve the youth and families of Vernon.

We also bought iPads, monitors, and secure technology to facilitate sessions between the clinicians and young people who needed to talk with them. We financed the remodeling of its counseling centers, and we ensured that the staff had the training and resources they needed to ensure all sessions were private and confidential.

Over the 2022-23 school year, the Boys & Girls Club has served more than 350 kids through individual and group behavioral health sessions — all at no cost to the kids and their families. These services are currently offered onsite, and we’re working with the organization to expand opportunities through virtual support and telehealth.

“This collaboration embodies our efforts to make healthcare more personalized and equitable for all Texans. We’re always grateful and excited to find partners who are so committed to improving the health of the whole person, however they can. This mental health initiative is making a difference in every part of this community.”

Greg Thompson, President, Amerigroup Texas

Young people in Vernon, as in other communities, are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, substance use, suicidal ideation, and delinquency. These challenges have grown larger since the pandemic, and disparities that are common to rural areas can make the issues that much more pronounced.

As part of this effort, Boys & Girls Club staff members observe kids for emotional wellness and identifies when they might need to talk to someone or get help. Club directors, including the Club’s Chief Executive Officer, Sarah Hernandez — who has a master’s degree in counseling — assess behavior and alert parents when mental health resources would make a difference.

“We have enormously strong bonds with Vernon. When our friends and neighbors feel pain, so do we,” Hernandez said. “The key is being able to do something about it. We’re so grateful to Amerigroup for providing the resources to take on this issue head-on. You can’t even imagine the difference it makes to kids, families, and all of our community.”

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