UCI leads development of wellness drop-in centers for OC youth

Stephen Schueller

Stephen Schueller, associate professor of psychological science, is directing the new drop-in centers in Orange County. Photo by Han Parker

Multiple county partners collaborate in innovative allcove care model

Orange County will be home to new youth drop-in centers offering wellness services to youth and young adults between the ages of 12 and 25. Endorsed by the County of Orange to apply for a $2 million grant from the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission, UCI will partner with the Wellness & Prevention Center (WPC) in south Orange County to establish and administer youth drop-in centers following the allcove model.

“The easiest way to think about what allcove is trying to create is ‘one door for all,’ ” said Stephen Schueller, associate professor of psychological science and director of the project. “We know a lot of different things contribute to wellbeing – education, being well physically and mentally, being connected with your community. There is a desire to bring all these elements together to create a place where youth can come to receive mental and behavioral health services but also be presented with a variety of different opportunities to help support their wellness, like educational workshops and occupational preparation.”

Schueller, who also directs UCI’s Wellness Initiative in Social Ecology (WISE), will lead the allcove team in Orange County and oversee an allcove center on campus. WPC will lead the center in south Orange County. Multiple partners will participate in the project, including Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Orange County Health Care Agency, Insight Psychotherapy Group, Capistrano Unified School District, Laura’s House, and the James Henry Ransom Foundation. During this grant period, UCI and the Wellness & Prevention Center also will explore opportunities for additional locations to augment the outreach of the allcove model across Orange County.

“My vision is that all our young people understand what allcove is, why they should go there and that they feel welcome. I want every area of Orange County to be served. The bigger goal is the entire state of California, and Stanford’s goal is the entire country,” said Susan Parmelee, executive director of the WPC.

The Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing created the allcove model based on observations and studies of youth mental health programs from around the world. The first two allcove centers opened in June 2021 in two California locations — Palo Alto and San Jose. Five additional allcove projects have been funded by the MHSOAC with San Mateo, Sacramento, and two Los Angeles County sites joining Orange County as the hosts for the next allcove centers.

“We are glad the Orange County community has the opportunity to develop two new allcove centers and are excited to support their implementation,” said Dr. Steven Adelsheim, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford and director of the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

One of the primary tenets of the allcove model is that the centers are designed with, by and for youth. The allcove vision is a place “where every youth belongs, chooses the support they need and thrives.” The youth voice will inform all decisions via Youth Advisory Groups. The WPC will coordinate the group featuring input from voices in the 12- to 25-year-old age range that reflects the Orange County community.

Parmelee led her first youth-run WPC “leadership meeting” in 2018 with 50 young people participating. They were asked what would inspire them to visit a drop-in center prioritizing mental wellness “if money were no object.” The answers were diverse, from “workout equipment and pick-up athletics” to classes on “how to cook, do finances and learn to play guitar,” to a “music practice room and a room full of service dogs,” she said.

Parmelee’s grand vision for the collaboration is to “lower the number of kids who progress into serious mental illness and lower the death-by-suicide rate. This is about so much more than mental health. It’s about kids being ready for the world, so it’s equally important that they figure out a path to their future” via education, academic and career support.

In preparing the proposal, Schueller, in partnership with the Orange County Health Care Agency Behavioral Health Services, conducted surveys and focus groups with more than 600 UCI students to solicit their input. To continue student input on this center as it develops, WISE organized a Peer Advisory Collective (PAC) for 17- to 25-year-old voices. PAC is led by Phoebe Pham, who is majoring in psychological science and social ecology. She also serves on the Central allcove Team Youth Advisory Group, which includes youth across California.

Pham said the WISE PAC’s initial plans for UCI’s allcove center call for group and one-on-one therapy sessions. Located in the Social Ecology I building, the center will feature a comfortable rest area. The design is developing but will be created with input from young people in alignment with the allcove environmental design principles and guidance from the Central allcove Team.

“We want to be able to provide resources to our fellow students and youth from the community, giving them guidance on how to get started on treating anxiety or mental health because students have difficulty seeking help.” Pham said. “I think the allcove center will make the help-seeking process less intimidating overall, especially knowing the first people you’re meeting are other young people who can relate to you.”

The allcove centers will provide an excellent training opportunity for students in clinical psychology at the undergraduate and graduate level, Schueller said. With its unique design, the allcove model can teach providers in what he called the “next generation” of services.

“One-on-one therapy will not solve the problem alone,” he said. “There’s too much demand, and there’s never going to be enough supply. allcove presents an innovative way of thinking about bringing things under one roof and meeting the needs of a focused group that’s really in need — these 12- to 25-year-olds. We need to figure out better ways to provide services that are developed for them, by them, with them, so I think training people in these new ways of care delivery is critical to think about how we solve these problems.”

About allcove

Pursuing a vision where every youth belongs, chooses the support they need and thrives, allcove is developing an innovative network of integrated youth mental health centers designed with, by and for youth that reduce stigma, embrace mental wellness, increase community connection and provide access to culturally-responsive services. allcove centers are anchored in a model of care that considers the holistic needs of young people. allcove welcomes young people ages 12 to 25, providing a place to take a moment of pause and access a range of services that include mental health, physical health, substance use, peer support, family support and supported education and employment. allcove centers are designed to create meaningful, positive experiences for every young person who comes through our doors. For more information on allcove, visit allcove.org.

Media Contacts:
Mimi Ko Cruz, School of Social Ecology, 949-824-1278, mkcruz@uci.edu
Cara Capuano, UCI, 949-501-9192, ccapuano@uci.edu
Andrea Martínez, allcove, 404-680-2796, info@allcove.org

Media Coverage:

Jan. 14, 2022: KTTV-LA, Good Day LA

Jan. 17, 2022: LAist — Orange County To Get Two New Mental Health Centers For Youth