A fine “Service Above Self” opportunity occurred in 2012 on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain when Southeast Louisiana Hospital, a large out-of-date state mental facility in Mandeville, was closed after more than 60 years. Soon the legislature sold the entire 300-acre complex of one-and-two-story, 1950s-style buildings to St. Tammany Parish. (A Parish in Louisiana is comparable to what a county is in the rest of the United States.) Multiple government agencies and non-profits saw this as an opportunity to usher in a 21st century center for caring that is a shining light for mental health communities throughout the U.S. and the world. The newly named “Safe Haven” is a multi-year project to create a collaborative healing environment for the behavioral health continuum by creating a high-quality, coordinated, sustainable and humane network of care anchored in St. Tammany Parish.

Rotarians of District 6840 saw the newly named “Safe Haven” as an opportunity to be part of creating a very special mental health community in the rapidly developing area north of New Orleans. The services provided on the Safe Haven campus includes a walk-in and drop-off center for people in mental health crisis, greatly reducing the incarceration of the mentally ill, a drop-in day center for people with severe mental illness, a group home and apartments for individuals with severe mental illness, an alternative school for youngsters who cannot succeed in a normal school setting, a facility for homeless families, and much more. Today, the 52 clubs of Rotary District 6840, led by Northlake Mandeville Rotary, are a driving force in the effort to make Safe Haven all that it can be. Specifically, we are working with Safe Haven and the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Architecture to renovate the recreational areas and create a meditation area. The first part of the project was to renovate a large overgrown picnic shelter. Week after week members of several Rotary clubs came together to dig the place out of the weeds, overgrown brush, and mud. Finally, in the spring of 2019, the Northlake-Mandeville Rotary club had its annual crawfish boil under the renovated pavilion.

Unfortunately, District 6840 Governor Ken Thompson was not there. He had died of a massive heart attack just a few months earlier after a busy day of Rotary Service teaching a leadership class. In February 2020, Ken’s family members gathered from throughout the state, the region and the entire U.S. at the pavilion to dedicate a plaque to his memory.

 

Rotary District 6840, 52 Rotary Clubs in Southeast Louisiana and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is proud to be a part of Safe Haven and to help create this special healing environment for those with mental illness and their families.