WARNER ROBINS -- Deborah Kinlaw now makes a living in a field she volunteered in because she enjoyed the work.
She was a manager for Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club about 20 years ago when she started volunteering to work with people suffering from mental health issues. She eventually earned a degree in mental health, became a licensed clinician and made it her full-time job.
Now, Kinlaw is the new executive director of the Phoenix Center in Warner Robins. The mostly state-funded facility provides mental health services for Houston, Peach and Crawford counties.
“It’s about making a difference,” she said of working in the mental health arena. “The nature of behavioral health is the transformation business. If we are not doing that effectively, we are not helping people make changes.”
A native of New York, she moved to Georgia more than 20 years ago because her mother was living here. She came to Houston County in May to become the center’s clinical director, not knowing that the executive director, James Singleton, was planning to retire.
When that happened, she applied for the job and got it. Kinlaw officially started her new job in November.
Ken Pritchard, chairman of the Phoenix Center board, said Kinlaw already has demonstrated she was the right person for the job.
“She has been very efficient in what she was done,” he said. “Mental health is not an easy field for anybody, but she has progressed well.”
Kinlaw said substance abuse is a leading mental health issue in the area. One of the biggest problems in recent years has been abuse of prescription drugs, she said. Changes that recently went into effect, she said, already have helped the problem significantly by making it more difficult for people to get the same prescriptions from multiple doctors.
The center has a secured residential facility on site that houses 14 men and women, while a separate facility at another location houses 16 women. The women’s facility is a crisis center aimed a helping women whose children have been put into foster care.
Although the center’s residential facility is only for adults, its outpatient services also help children. Kinlaw said there is a growing problem of self-injury and suicide among adolescents, as well as eating disorders. A focus in the coming year is to do more outreach to young people to help address those problems earlier.
She recently assisted a middle school in putting on a play about those issues, and she plans to do more things like that.
It’s heavy stuff for middle school students, she acknowledged, but she said the alternative of ignoring the issue is not a good idea.
“They are already involved with it,” she said. “It seems heavy to us as adults, because we know how severe it can become. But they are actually subjected to this stuff already.”
Early intervention is important for youth and adults, she said, but unfortunately it usually has to reach a crisis point before the person shows up at the Phoenix Center. Many people end up there because of law enforcement action.
Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said the center saves the county a lot of money because it helps keep people out of jail and the hospital.
“It’s a service that many people don’t even know is provided,” he said. “The main thing is that it helps people who need the help.”
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.