WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — After dedicating four decades to mental health support and public service in the community, Helen Farabee’s Executive Director Roddy Atkins is about to start a new chapter in his life.
It’s his last day and Roddy Atkins said he feels confident signing off as executive director and passes the baton to someone he has been grooming for some time.
After working more than 20 years side-by-side with Atkins, Gianna Harris said she is ready to carry the torch of executive director of Helen Farabee Center a title held by Atkins for almost a quarter-century.
“There have been so many things that I am proud of that the center has accomplished, Atkins said. “I think back to being the first entity in the state to do telemedicine, telepsychiatry in 1999, nobody was doing it.”
“I’ve got big shoes to fill but I won’t be Roddy Atkins, I’m Gianna Harris,” Harris said. “Roddy Atkins not only did a lot for this community but he did a lot to change the way that services have been rendered in the state of Texas as a whole.”
Atkins has spent 41 years in mental health and public service, more than half of it at Helen Farabee, he said his curiosity about people’s mindsets and behavior is what led him to this field.
“As I started getting into the field and kind of saw the impact that mental health conditions had on folks, substance use issues, a co-occurring disorder with substance abuse and mental health, I’m looking at this thinking these are health issues,” Atkins said.
Now, the board is entrusting Harris to take over this role and she said her hope is to continue with the things she has learned from Atkins but “Gianna style”.
“Let’s just make sure that everyone has a comfort level with the fact that our leader that they’ve known for all these years has now retired,” Harris said.
Atkins said he has seen a lot of changes over the years in mental health care, such as funding.
“Over the last three or four legislative sessions, so last eight years or so, the legislature has continued to make an investment in mental health, substance use [and] you see it at the federal level as well,” Atkins said.
But especially changes in the stigma mental health once carried.
“What I’ve seen is that gradual evolution where people, in general, have sort of begun to recognize we can treat these illnesses people can recover they can work and have productive lives,” Atkins said. “In many respects, there’s been an improvement in treatment, there are newer interventions that are effective for folks, there are some newer medications that are helpful.”
Atkins said of all the things he has learned over the years, patience has been the most valuable and his advice to Gianna is to just be herself.
Atkins said he will miss the people he has worked with and his only regret is not seeing a long-planned move to a better and larger facility off Hatton Road completed in his tenure.
Atkin’s plan is to move to hunt with his wife and build a retirement home.