Next Step Clinic Opens at Next Door

A new clinic operating at Next Door as part of an extensive community partnership has become an extremely welcome resource for the families being served.

“I think for a lot of families, it’s relief. They are so excited for someone to finally listen to them,” said Dr. Amy Van Hecke, an associate professor of psychology at Marquette University and co-executive director of the Next Step Clinic.

The clinic came about after a coalition of community partners received the President’s Challenge grant from Marquette University President Mike Lovell and the Johnson Controls Foundation. Next Door joined the coalition by offering a vacant clinical space at its 29th Street campus.

The clinic aims to address mental health and developmental needs of underserved Milwaukee children and families, who often face barriers like long waiting lists and trips to the suburbs for assistance.

“We had just heard so many challenges that families were having, and especially families of color who were just falling through the cracks,” said Leah Jepson, co-executive director of the Next Step Clinic representing Mental Health America of Wisconsin.

The Next Step clinic operates as a satellite site of Mental Health America of Wisconsin. It offers family navigation services and autism diagnoses for children.

The Family Navigators — Troney Small and Ida Winters — spend up to two hours getting to know families in their first appointment. They develop Family Care Plans covering basic household needs and clinical services, and conduct initial screenings for children’s developmental challenges. Their background with similar life experiences puts families at ease right away.

“Having these navigators as the initial contacts is really crucial for people identifying that this is a safe place for them,” Van Hecke said.

The clinical care includes assessments for the medical diagnosis of autism, which can lead to intensive autism therapies for children. The clinic refers families to community providers to access those therapies.

The autism assessments are performed by licensed clinical psychologists and Marquette University graduate students in psychology. The students are supervised by Marquette faculty and Director of Clinical Services for the Next Step Clinic and licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Amy Leventhal. The clinic recruited students as part of a needed effort to build more practitioners in this field.

Next year, the clinic plans to roll out Parent-Child Interaction Therapy with on-the-spot coaching for parents interacting with children six and under. Addressing parent mental health needs is coming, too.

“If they’re struggling with depression, anxiety, unmitigated trauma or chronic toxic stress, we can screen for that and refer them to services and really help have that holistic package for the family,” Jepson said.

Jepson and Van Hecke say their work at the Next Step Clinic is having a tremendous impact on them personally and professionally. They’ve discovered some of the old ways of doing things don’t work in a clinic like this, and are excited about the positive changes they can bring to their field.

“The more time I can be over here, the better. This is the highlight of my week,” Van Hecke said.

Some of the Next Step Clinic staff pictured above L-R: Director of Clinical Services Dr. Amy Leventhal, Clinic Assistant Alice Lindo, Co-Executive Director Dr. Amy Van Hecke and Co-Executive Director Leah Jepson.


Funding provided by: Marquette University’s President’s Challenge (MU and Johnson Controls); Milwaukee Succeeds Funders’ Collaborative, and the Advancing a Healthier WI Endowment at the Medical College of WI.

Partners include: Marquette University, Mental Health America of Wisconsin, Next Door, Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing (Children’s Wisconsin and UWM), Alverno College, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Coalition for Children’s Mental Health, Milwaukee Succeeds, MIRACLE Network and Progressive Baptist Church, True Love Missionary Baptist Church.

Click HERE to learn more about the President’s Challenge grant from Marquette University and Johnson Controls.

Click HERE to read media coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

See below to watch a video about the clinic.