by Sharon Chin and Jennifer Mistrot
SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — A woman who has dedicated her life to helping mental health patients with their ongoing needs has been honored by Santa Clara County.
For serving more than 70 years in social work and mental health, Wanda Alexander received the Community Hero Award from the county’s Department of Behavioral Health. The past Jefferson Award winner accepted the accolade for her years of service in the mental health field, but has said it is time to say goodbye.
The South Bay mental health advocate and treatment pioneer retired for a second time this past May.
Alexander served more than 50 years as a counselor, volunteer and, at times, CEO at ACT for Mental Health in San Jose, the only no-cost or low-cost drop in center for those struggling with mental health illness in San Jose.
ACT for Mental Health started in the 1950’s with the Fireside Friendship Club, a grass-roots social club. Its mission was to help people released from mental hospitals integrate back into the community.
Alexander continued that model of caring community support and counseling throughout her tenure at the center.
When KPIX 5 first visited with Alexander five years ago she was in her mid-80s. She had already retired once from ACT but returned as CEO to reorganize and rescue it from closure. Alexander diversified the nonprofit’s services, along the way adding support for parent-child reunification and classes in parenting, anger management, and English as a second language.
She was still driving herself to work two or three days a week but was ready to slow down. Alexander says she will still be an advisor to her successor.
“I feel good about where ACT is now so I can pull out and do other things,” said Alexander. (But) I always have to have a cause.”
The non-profit hopes to expand even further by creating a Neighborhood House in downtown San Jose, like the settlement houses of the past, where the community can gather for activities and services.