“Honk for justice!” protesters yelled over and over as cars passed by on busy Hulen Street during today’s lunch hour.
Protesters were waving signs in front of the Tarrant County Mental Health and Mental Retardation headquarters.
The protesters like to socialize, play games, and hang out during the week at Paradise Center, a nonprofit organization and peer support community center for adults with mental illness. The center, which opened in 1998, operates in a building provided by MHMR on South Jennings Avenue.
But last week, MHMR fired the center’s only fulltime staffer, Teresa Davis. She had been running the center for 10 years and was close to many of the regulars.
“They didn’t just fire me, they kicked out everybody and locked our doors and changed our locks,” Davis said.
She and a half-dozen Paradise Center regulars decided to picket MHMR to show their displeasure.
Teresa Gabel, a Paradise regular for 10 years, said MHMR “slammed the door in our faces when we went to get our personal belongings.”
Gabel said the center plays an important part in the lives of many people with mental difficulties.
“Paradise Center has kept me and others out of the hospital for years,” she said. “This way we don’t sit at home and worry about our problems. If somebody is having a bad day, we sit and talk to them.”
Paradise Center’s slogan is “a community of friends helping friends in mental health recovery.”
MHMR spokesperson Donna Massey said the center will continue being a community of friends — the building was open for business today as usual and will continue that way, only without Davis at the helm.
“We just had a change in management,” Massey said. “It has caused some issues.”
Massey said Davis was fired last week but was going to be allowed into the Paradise building on Friday after closing time to collect her personal belongings. (Massey said she couldn’t discuss the reasons for Davis’ termination.)
However, Davis showed up with a group of people, including clients, who all wanted to come inside the building at the same time and fetch belongings, Massey said. The building contains various computer items, furnishings, games, and whatnot, some belonging to MHMR, some belonging to Paradise, some belonging to visitors.
Rather than let a large group of people inside to start grabbing items, Massey kept the doors shut and asked Davis to submit an inventory list of possessions, Massey said. She also requested a meeting with the Paradise Center board of directors to get an inventory list of the nonprofit’s belongings.
“We just want to make sure it happens in an appropriate manner,” she said.
As for the center, it was open today during regular hours and MHMR has no plans of closing it in the future or reducing services, Massey said.
The center might be renamed if the Paradise Center Inc. nonprofit group severs ties with MHMR, but it will otherwise continue offering the same space and services, Massey said.
“This is an unfortunate personnel decision, but we’re not going to be closing the doors,” she said. “We’re committed to that drop-in center.”
Steve Doeung, a Paradise Center board member and husband to Davis, said the center has become a vital part of many people’s lives over the years. MHMR has provided the building, utilities, a van, and other overhead items over the years, but the success of Paradise is attributed to Davis and the visitors, Doeung said.
“They have worked hard to build up this reputable organization and community center,” he said.