AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A facility working to help those struggling with mental illness transition back into the community is coming to a close, but what’s growing in its place could have an even bigger impact here in the garden city.

The Friendship Community Center has been supporting adults with mental illnesses for decades. Now, the center is having to close its doors because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leonard Maxey, director of Friendship Community Center said, “A lot of mental health entities in the community refer individuals here for guidance, we basically provide guidance for individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar symptoms and who suffer from long term depression.

Workers from the center known as Certified Peer Specialists or CPS say it has made a lasting impression on their patients lives. “Through Friendship Center we have had very very few people that have ever had to return back to the hospitals and that in itself is exceptional,” said program director, Kathy Ringel.

The success of the center along with the growing need of mental health support led to the new peer recovery and wellness center in Augusta. The new facility is a portion of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network. That organization is led by people in mental health recovery.

Rosalind Hayes, statewide coordinator of the GMHCN’s peer support wellness and respite centers said, “I’ve been with the network for the past 10 years and any place I’ve been, they’re always asking when we will have a center in Augusta, and so we’re just so excited to finally be in Augusta and to continue to pick up where the Friendship Community Center left off and to continue to provide support to a recovering city.

Organizers say they are looking to break the stigma of people living with a mental illness and increase the number of services the City offers.

Chris Johnson, director of communications said, “There’s a stigma going throughout our society and culture, like if you see a movie and someone has a psychiatric diagnosis in it there almost always the villain or the person committing the crime, or the person doing something wrong and that sort of permeates our whole culture so when things happen in someone’s life when things aren’t going right that willingness to identify themselves as someone with a mental health problem that’s a big barrier for a lot of people to overcome, they don’t want to become one of those people and the reality is those people are everywhere.”

The new respite center will offer patients a place to sleep and shower as well as hot meals and other peers to speak to.

“There’s peers everywhere, there’s folks in the recovering community everywhere, and people were just aware of the work we did and the value of our respite centers and they really were just excited and everyone wants one,” said Hayes.

Organizers also say it will serve as an alternative to other psychiatric treatments. Right now the center is still working on its funding and renovations, but in the meantime you can still find what resources they have to offer on their website.