OMAHA, Neb. – Northeast Community College is one of 83 organizations across Nebraska to be awarded grant dollars to provide student support in a drug and alcohol counseling certification program and to hire an additional student behavioral health counselor and intern on the Norfolk campus.

The Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) has announced awardees in the first round of its American Rescue Plan Act funding, with grants totaling $19.5 million. The grant recipients selected come from nearly 200 applicants that requested more than $49 million across the four award categories, more than double the amount available.

Northeast was awarded a three-year $500,000 grant to provide support for students enrolled in the College’s Drug and Alcohol Counseling (DAC) Certificate program. The funds will be utilized to provide students with a full tuition waiver, compensation for textbooks, a computer, and stipend for expenses during their internship experience. Additional funding will be used to add faculty when necessary, based on projected growth in the program.

Jon Barnes, human services and human relations instructor, said Northeast’s application was focused on acquiring funding to provide support for DAC students pursuing their Provisionally Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (PLADC) credential. He said the funding will assist students in and out of the classroom.

“DAC students are responsible to find their own 300-hour practicum which is required for PLADC licensure eligibility. I assist students with this process, when possible,” he said. “This grant seeks to provide stipend funding to students for both their educational requirements of the certificate program and their practicum hours.”

Barnes said it is not unusual to have students who are already working full-time or working two-to-three jobs which makes it difficult for them in unpaid practicum work. With a large shortage of certified counselors, he said the grant is designed to meet workforce needs and to create an equitable path to licensure for those who may struggle with financial means in gaining their license.

“It also seeks to create pipelines to regional agencies and behavioral health providers for students upon graduation and licensure to job options in our area and state.”

Northeast was also awarded $343,000 to hire one additional licensed mental health therapist and one behavioral health intern in Northeast’s student counseling center. The additional licensed provider will primarily focus on providing direct student services on the Norfolk campus and travel to the College’s extended campuses regularly for face-to-face counseling. The intern will assist with one-on-one counseling and establish group therapy sessions for students.

“Our goal with this request is to reduce or eliminate the need for outside behavioral health contracts as having a counselor who is fully integrated into the campus culture provides the most benefit for students,” said Gina Krsyl, director of student care and outreach at Northeast. “Knowledge of campus services and counselor relationships with faculty and staff allow a more comprehensive campus referral system simplifying access to services a student may need.”

Krysl said while utilization of campus behavioral health services did wane during the pandemic, however, the number of visits has been steadily increasing. She said Northeast has received commitments from Wayne State College and Bellevue University for the placement of interns in the program.

Of the 83 projects selected to receive ARPA funds, 40 (48%) are in metropolitan areas of Nebraska and 43 (52%) are located in rural areas of the state.
The Nebraska Legislature allocated more than $25 million in recovery plan funding to BHECN in 2022 to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shortage of behavioral health professionals in the state.