‘Meet[ing] people where they are’: Therapists from Rugged Grace reflect on their journey to the business and mental health space

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Pictured: The new counseling/therapy office in Greenfield called Rugged Grace. 704 N. State Street.

By Elissa Maudlin

GREENFIELD — Jenny Menser said she wasn’t one to jump into a new business. She already had a full-time job. But she felt like if she didn’t do something to help the need in Hancock County for flexible and low cost mental health services, “somebody was going to fall through the cracks.”

She has spent her 25-year career working in social services, helping families and children in different capacities, as well as adults with mental illness. Although she has worked in Indianapolis, she is passionate about helping families and people in the community and wanted to serve in her own area.

“I’ve worked in this community for years. I went to high school in Greenfield, my kids go to school there,” Menser said. “It’s my tiny part of the world that I can [help] to make the world safer and better, and if I can do something, I’m not gonna not do it.”

She graduated with a degree in elementary education but volunteered as a CASA in Marion County and has been in social services since then. Her work with families and children made her want to finish her master’s degree.

“I just think it’s kind of where I found my niche. It’s what I’m passionate about doing,” she said. “… I like making sure that [children are] safe and protected and families get the help that they need, and I’m very passionate about making sure that that happens. So it was kind of a natural fit.”

Menser started Rugged Grace after seeing the need in Hancock County for cost-effective mental health services with people who don’t have insurance and resources. Rugged Grace partners with agencies, churches and schools that can provide referrals, space and/or funding to get the cost as low as possible for clients and see as many people as possible. They also provide evening and weekend hours to provide “the flexibility to meet people where they are.”

“We want to be a place that’s safe for people to be able to come and really put down the baggage that they have just amassed over their lifetime, and we want them to feel loved no matter the condition they’re in,” Menser said. “We really want to be able to be a safety net for schools and churches and just the community in general that if somebody needs a place [where] they can just feel accepted and not judged, we want to absolutely be that.”

Katelin Patterson, one of the therapists at Rugged Grace, has been a therapist since 2017 when she got her master’s degree, but the reason she got that degree was because of her own struggles with addiction. She wanted to help people with the same problem.

“If I can take my negative experiences and turn them around into something positive for someone else, that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” Patterson said. “… I struggled trying to figure out what to do with myself because I didn’t really have a plan … I honestly didn’t think I would need to because, unfortunately, a lot of people don’t make it out the other end, either sober or surviving. So it took me a while to find my purpose.”

She enjoys seeing people maintain the mental health work they’ve done with her, who originally came in “broken, hopeless [and] having no direction.”

Patterson said one person she worked with in group therapy for substance abuse units in a jail program was originally hard to work with and had no desire to be a good spouse or parent. They “completely made a 180 there,” got their children back and have been sober for two years.

Patterson met Menser, who she said she “respected, trusted and valued,” at Hickory House, a substance abuse treatment facility in Greenfield. After going their separate ways, Patterson saw a hiring advertisement for Rugged Grace and, with two young kids at home, wanted to apply for more schedule flexibility.

She believes there is a need for mental health services anywhere you go, but especially in smaller counties due to lack of resources, money or staffing.

For Stephanie Gustin, another therapist at Rugged Grace, “there are not even enough words to express how much [she] loves helping people.”

“This was my ‘what I wanted to be when I grow up’ thing,” she said.

She first started doing therapy in 2020 during the pandemic but was working another job at the time, a program coordinator job at ICAP, and didn’t advertise her therapy services. She said it was all word-of-mouth as she eased herself in.

Gustin had known Menser for seven to eight years and joined Rugged Grace with limited hours in the beginning and, when she decided to leave her job to pursue therapy full-time, she said “[she] wanted to vomit.”

“… the fear of failure is always there for everyone when they are going to make a change,” Gustin said. “I think I knew in the back of my head that everything would be fine, but there’s always that little seed of doubt.”

When it comes to helping people, her favorite thing is to celebrate the small stuff that leads to the big stuff, and her hero — “the greatest person on earth” — is Mr. Rogers.

“He said his goal is not to focus on changing everyone’s lives, but to focus on changing one person’s life …” Gustin said. “ … I want to have the mindset that Mr. Fred Rogers had.”

She said she always tells her clients that she’s not going anywhere and she enjoys people “… finally seeing themselves the way [she] see[s] them, which is perfect.”

On June 15, Rugged Grace had an open house for the community to meet the staff and see the new space, according to advertisements.

“Mental health is very much the same as physical health. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s treatment. It’s available,” Menser said. “And … we’re here to help them.”

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