May 12, 2015. The Topeka Capitol-Journal.

The positivity displayed at a Topeka Justice Unity and Ministry Project assembly Tuesday night was in stark contrast to the negative tone of last year’s assembly.

The second JUMP Nehemiah Action Assembly, which took place at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center, focused on expanding supported employment for people with mental illness in Shawnee County.

Shawnee County Commissioners Shelly Buhler and Kevin Cook attended the assembly. Councilman Bob Archer didn’t attend, said Rev. Roger Neufeld Smith, of Southern Hills Mennonite Church.

“We are sad and disappointed about that,” Smith said.

The 2014 Nehemiah Action Assembly, focused on closing the achievement gaps of at-risk students by adding more Communities in Schools site coordinators.

During the assembly, Julie Ford, superintendent for Topeka Unified School District 501, was questioned. The meeting took a negative tone and had several tense moments during the question-and-answer session, according to previous Topeka Capital-Journal articles.

JUMP co-chairmen Rev. Raymond Berry, of the Gethsemane Church of God in Christ in Topeka, and Doug Penner, of Southern Hills, said the organization, formed locally in 2012, learned from last year’s assembly.

The organization intended to take the commissioners’ responses seriously and have a congenial and partner-like atmosphere, Penner said.

“Tonight we are trying to bring to light the plight of the seriously mental ill,” Berry said.

Organizers said they expected between 1,000 and 1,500 to attend the assembly.

JUMP consists of 18 Shawnee County churches whose goal is to “make systemic impacts to address the root causes of injustices in Topeka,” the JUMP website states.

Before the start of the meeting, Buhler said she was a little apprehensive about the event because of last year’s assembly. However, the question-and-answer session went smoothly.

When asked whether they agreed the “broken mental health system has resulted in an overuse of expensive community services, like the county jail and hospital emergency rooms, and is a barrier to people with serious mental illness achieving recovery,” both commissioners answered yes.

While Buhler agreed, she said she hesitated to say the system is broken because there are a lot of people working on mental health issues.

Buhler drew applause from the crowd when she said the county is a very small piece of the picture, and there are other steps that can be taken, such as Medicaid expansion.

Cook asked the crowd and ministers gathered at the assembly whether they would make supported employment for people with mental illness a priority and mission in their churches.

“Our call is to take care of our brothers and sisters,” Cook said.

JUMP is asking the county commission to set aside $100,000 each year to add four more employment specialists, which would serve 100 people with mental illness through Valeo Behavioral Health Care’s employment program.

The two commissioners agreed to seriously consider a request for the additional funding to support the expansion and to meet with JUMP in 90 days to speak about the issue.