Local Rotary chapter pursuing new initiatives to raise mental health awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in many ways, it feels like the topic is garnering more attention and discussion than ever before at the local, state and national level. Nonetheless, plenty of work remains to be done, and Marshalltown’s chapter of the Rotary Club International is doing what it can to help.

Dennis Drager, a retired veterinarian who is a member of the Rotary action group, is helping to launch a mental health initiatives chapter for District 6000, the area that includes Marshalltown and the southern half of Iowa. Drager is set to become the district governor for District 6000, and the incoming Rotary International president from Scotland is on the same page about addressing mental health.

“It’s something that we have an interest in, and everybody in the world has been touched by mental health in some capacity,” Drager said. “It’s our initiative to start a chapter of the Rotary action group on mental health initiatives.”

In reflecting on changes in the system over the years, Drager noted a shift away from sanatorium facilities of old but lamented that individuals who need help and are struggling from mental health issues often end up in jails and prisons. Of course, it’s also become a huge topic for debate in discussing mass shootings and seemingly random acts of violence in America.

“They’re not all right wing crazy people or left wing crazy people that do that. There are normal people that walk in your door that have those mental demons or mental issues going on,” he said. “When it mounts up to too much, things like that can happen.”

Both Dennis and his wife Heidi are optimistic that with input and expertise from sources both local, across the district and across the world, they can determine which initiatives will have the strongest impact.

“It’s about changing the talk about mental illness. It’s a health concern. People have to accept it (and) talk about it in order for the way it’s looked at to be changed,” Dennis said. “Our hope is that clubs will do even just a small project.”

An example he cited was members of the Rotary Club in the eastern Iowa community of Tipton using sidewalk chalk to discuss mental health in that community and demonstrating that it shouldn’t be “swept under a rock.”

“The mental health component is the starting point of so many societal issues. You can address those other issues, whether it’s human trafficking or gun control or whatever it is, but if you don’t get down to the mental health and wellness area, (it won’t matter),” Heidi Drager said.

One longtime advocate for mental health who will be involved in the action group as chair is Dr. Paul Daniel, the executive director of Center Associates in Marshalltown. He has been encouraged by the sea change in perceptions on mental health and is hopeful it will translate into real action.

“When organizations and government officials talk about mental health, they become advocates. ‘It’s time to put the fork in the salad,’ as my dad would say, and get to helping people who are struggling. It is not just talk anymore; it is about action,” Daniel said. “Leadership that focuses on this works on creating a societal shift that will prioritize mental wellness. While discussions and increased awareness are positive steps, I emphatically urge concrete actions and implementation of effective strategies. Continued commitment, funding, and collaboration are needed to address the mental health crisis effectively and ensure that the momentum for change is sustained over time, especially in rural America.”

Daniel sees public events, workshops and educational sessions as crucial components of these new initiatives along with wellness fairs, mindfulness workshops, physical activity initiatives, walks and 5k runs and “other activities that foster positive mental health practices.”

Center Associates recently announced an innovative new Urgent Care clinic meant to mimic the clinics with the same name focusing on physical injuries or illnesses for those who need immediate attention, and Daniel has plenty of ideas about other ways to move mental health initiatives forward in Marshalltown and the surrounding area.

“Some of the easiest concrete steps could involve establishing extended operating hours to accommodate diverse schedules and client needs, availability of in person or telehealth appointments, decrease wait times through mental health urgent care,” he said. Additionally, we have to provide community education and awareness to help with greater awareness of brain health issues and reduce stigma and promote early intervention. Partnering with Rotary is one of those avenues to promote brain wellness, resources and strategies for self-care.”

Anyone with ideas for the projects is encouraged to contact one of the members of the District 6000 Rotary Action Group on Mental Health Initiatives board: Chair Paul Daniel, Secretary Mary Curley, Technical Chair Heidi Drager, Treasurer Norlan Hinke, Bonnie Lowry, Sarah Berndt, Liz Cox, Kandy Wittry, Morgan Oliver or Sue Cahill.


Contact Robert Maharry

at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or



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