For Dot Jenkins, personal commitments and life experiences have had much to do with her developing an interest in issues and matters related to mental wellness.
A classroom teacher in Lebanon for more than 40 years, including stints in elementary and high school grades, as well as on the university level, Jenkins has a special appreciation for those she has taught.
And it’s through many of these experiences that she saw early on a reason to become actively involved as a volunteer board member at Cumberland Mental Health Center, a nonprofit agency that provides mental health services for communities throughout Wilson, Sumner and Trousdale counties.
Chris Wyre, president and chief executive officer of Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System, the nonprofit agency that oversees Cumberland Mental Health and other clinics of its kind providing mental health services in 31 Tennessee counties, recognized Jenkins this week and her longtime commitment mental health issues.
Wyre termed her service with the volunteer board of directors as “invaluable,” as she has been an “integral part of many policy making decisions that have served over a period of years to broaden and improve the services we provide.”
Wyre said Jenkins and others like her who give freely of their time to serve in a volunteer capacity have made a significant difference in how “we in Tennessee view issues related to mental health.”
Through her experiences in the classroom and from her own life experiences at her church, through work relationships, community activities and personal friendships, Jenkins came to recognize that there is a credible need for mental health services locally.
Not long before she joined the Cumberland Mental Health board of directors in 1979, she recalled Wilson County was singled out at the time as having one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S.
She remembered the community was well aware of this issue. It had been publicized in the local newspaper, and there was a move a foot by a group of civic and community leaders to organize a nonprofit agency whose mission would be to aid the local area in dealing with a plethora of mental health concerns.
Her tenure with the Cumberland Mental Health Center has seen a number of changes beginning with the construction of a new facility to house the agency – the one in which the center is currently located on Winter Drive – to an expansion of services and an expanded service area.
She said one of the most notable changes she’s seen however is the way people today view mental health services.
Mental illness, she said, is something “that has touched almost all families” in one way or another and “so often young people” are the ones dealing with the issues of the illness or are the ones most affected.
Jenkins credits the impact mental health issues have had on young people as one of the driving forces that has caused public officials, community leaders, and local mental health boards to focus efforts on public awareness and helping the general public have a much better understanding and acceptance when discussing mental illness or knowing that someone has sought mental health services.
Jenkins, who was raised in Birmingham, Ala., moved to Lebanon in the late 1950s with her husband, the late Bill Jenkins, a pharmacist and partner with Bradshaw Drugs at the time.
The career educator and mother of seven has an undergraduate degree from Samford University in Birmingham, a master’s from Vanderbilt, an EDS from Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., and lacks only completing a doctoral dissertation to be the recipient a doctorate degree in education.
In the mid-1980s, when Bob Clement was president of Cumberland University, she was given the task of launching an education major at Cumberland as the school was transitioning from a junior college back to a four-year institution. The program started by Jenkins continues to be successful today and remains one of the most popular majors among Cumberland students.
She holds that much of her interest with respect to the subject of mental illness has been influenced by the years she’s spent in the classroom teaching different grade levels and different types of students including those who are developmentally challenged and others who required special needs.
She said one her personal goals and one of the main reasons she has continued her service with the local mental health center is that she wants to “help change things for the better.”
This personal mantra keeps her enthusiastically engaged in education, inspires her commitment to her church, and is a driving force behind her continued involvement in mental health.
Cumberland Mental Health Services, an agency operated under the umbrella of Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System, offers a variety of programs including outpatient therapy, psychiatric medication management, adult and children case management, mobile crisis response, tele-health services, DUI treatment, addiction recovery, forensic services psychosexual evaluations, teen driver safety class and special assistance to veterans who are homeless. Nathan Miller is the local center’s director.
Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Murfreesboro, provides services to clients in 31 counties in Middle Tennessee, Upper Cumberland and Southeast Tennessee.