During the commemoration of a new Independence counseling facility Friday, the CEO delivered a solemn plea amid the appetizers, ribbon-cutting and handshakes at the celebratory event. Vince Hillyer told the crowd gathered outside the Great Circle at 18610 E. 37th Terrace South, that mental illness will continue to spiral until society accepts that life’s pressures make everyone vulnerable – no one is exempt.

“We all need help,” Hillyer told the crowd of more than 100 who gathered at the center to celebrate. “We all struggle, we all suffer and our kids have the same struggles,” he said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I need help.’ Let’s put a circle around those who need our support.”

The new facility puts an address on services that have been offered by the group in the area since 2014. Hillyer addressed the group’s struggles without a facility. “The problem was, we were (constantly) … taking kids to other spaces,” he said. “This is a 25-year dream-come-true.”

Great Circle was created by the merger of Boys & Girls town of Missouri and Edgewood Children’s Center and strives to help individuals and families with difficult circumstances. At the center of the group’s mission is a drive to reinstitute the important contributions of family by offering parenting support and education programs and intervention for at-risk families. The group partners with other area organizations, such as the Independence School District, and offers services including individual, family and group counseling, both in-home or in-office, foster family recruitment and case management of children already in foster care.

The menu of services includes help for autism and self-injury, for those with severe emotional and behavioral issues in addition to children with communication disorders. Great Circle also has offices in St. Louis, Columbia and St. James, Mo.

Foster Care Case Manager Sara Noblet said the center currently serves 225 children in foster care at a time. “It’s kind of a revolving door,” she said, adding that the group is charged with overseeing foster children through adoption and as soon as they find homes, new adoptable children arrive in their place.

Vice President of Public Affairs Carmen Schulze said proposed cuts to state funding will hurt Great Circle’s efforts. “Should we be balancing the budget on the shoulders of foster kids?” she asked. “What will the future of Medicaid hold for foster kids?” she asked, adding that such funding provides for the physical and mental health care for foster children.

Therapist Lori Oster offered an example of a success story, adding that she’s excited about an upcoming session. “Today, I have a front-row seat, to celebrate with my client, nine months of sobriety,” she said.

During an interview after the ceremony, Hillyer said that untreated mental illness leads to other behaviors, such as drug or alcohol addiction.

“Untreated, it doesn’t stop, it just gets worse and worse,” he said. Hillyer added that he’s disturbed by adults’ excessive use of cell phones, which he notices while observing families eating in restaurants. He said parents and children need to find a time to connect every day without distractions. He said smiling pictures of people on Facebook, Instagram and other social media outlets, mislead many people into believing that most people lead carefree lives.

In addition, so much stigma continues to surround this disease. “I just want mental illness to get on the same page as other illness,” he said, adding, “…that’s when we would be able to eradicate it.”