By Moryt Milo
Sometimes nonprofits know when a merger is a flawless fit. It’s rare, but in the case of Momentum for Health and Parisi House on the Hill, the decision had no doubters. The timing was right and the leaders of each organization had been working together for years.
Parisi House Executive Director Pat Mitchell started thinking about the nonprofit’s future in 2019, the 25th anniversary of its founding. The organization is the only residential treatment facility in Santa Clara County where mothers struggling with drug and alcohol addiction can stay with their babies and young children as they detox and work on their recovery. Mitchell wanted to find a partner that could help expand the nonprofit’s services and also provide career grow opportunities for the staff.
“Honest to god the very first partner we thought of was Momentum for Health,” Mitchell said, who is now Chief of Staff at Momentum. “It was definitely the first conversation [I thought we] should have, and the only conversation we needed to have.”
The merger fits right in with CEO Dave Mineta’s future vision for Momentum for Health. Mineta’s goal, since the beginning of his tenure at Momentum, has been to build out a seamless health care template where mental and physical health services are not siloed but operate in a symbiotic manner. Momentum had already been referring mothers to Parisi House, and now Parisi House would be able to provide these women mental health services and job training, and address other important needs.
“We have the same vision. The same values. The same work ethics and the same mission. It just makes things much simpler,” Mineta said.
Clients find Parisi House through various referrals including social services, social workers at hospitals where babies are born to addicted mothers, and providers like Momentum. Women also may call the nonprofit directly. The services currently are only available to women with MediCal.
Mitchell said the No. 1 reason that keeps mothers from getting treatment is the fear of being separated from their child. Parisi House takes that off the table for mothers with children from birth to five years old. Mothers, with up to two children within that age range, can stay at Parisi House throughout inpatient treatment. The facility can accommodate up to 20 mothers at a time, each with a private room for their family.
Mothers in recovery
As the mother works on her recovery, the nonprofit’s child development team assesses the child’s needs. Together, a bond between parent and child begins to form. Many of these women have come from homelessness and don’t know how to care for a baby, Mitchell said. They were never the beneficiaries of an environment with good parenting skills. Their main focus was finding and doing drugs to ease their pain, she said.
At Parisi House, women learn how to keep their rooms clean. How to plan and prepare healthy meals for themselves and their family. How to care for their children. These women have been struggling for so long, they often have co-occurring diagnoses like a mental illness and substance use addiction, Mitchell said.
The average stay is about 60 days, but a client can stay up to 90 days and sometimes longer. Once the client graduates from the acute inpatient program, the mother steps down to outpatient care and stays in transitional housing with her child or children as she continues to receive support from Parisi House. This is where child after-care programs, job services, and support groups kick in to help mothers stabilize and avoid relapse.
“We don’t say congratulations, have a good life. That’s not how it works,” Mitchell said.
Both Mineta and Mitchell say even with all these guardrails in place, the road to successful recovery and staying sober is not easy. Santa Clara County needs to have stronger wraparound services—housing, child care, meaningful employment—as part of the equation to help these families in a stable environment.
“You can’t release someone after transition housing and their next stop is the streets, that’s a travesty,” Mineta said. “You hear from the moms about all they have gained with their family members, kids, employment, but they can’t find a permanent place to live or can’t afford rent.”
Mitchell and Mineta see this problem as a foundational issue and something they must tackle as they look toward the future.
Mineta said that with Mitchell coming on board as Momentum’s Chief of Staff, a newly created position, it’s a win for both of them. This new structure will enable the two to work together on a daily basis as they plan the expansion of future services.
“You get big opportunities where you are super excited professionally and this is one of them,” Mineta said about the merger.
For more information about Parisi House, contact Jeff Geiger at JGeiger@momentumforhealth.org