Cover Stories

Show of Support

Every year, community leaders and professional dancers hit the floor for Dancing with the St. Louis Stars. While the glitz and glamour are undeniable, it’s important to remember that every cha-cha and waltz is for an important cause. The event benefits Independence Center’s mission to provide a comprehensive system of high-quality programs and services to people dealing with serious and persistent mental illness. “We can help with almost anything these individuals need,” says business development manager Abby Berger.

Since 1981, the nonprofit has offered a safe space for adults to connect with others facing similar challenges. Its flagship program is the Clubhouse, which follows a psychosocial rehabilitation model that focuses on strengthening an individual’s abilities rather than treating him or her as a patient. It is structured to mirror the expectations and relationships of a workplace, and all members are responsible for helping it operate by taking on a variety of tasks. “Our model allows people to engage with and work alongside others who are dealing with similar circumstances,” Berger explains. “It’s empowering for them to learn they aren’t alone in their mental illness.”

Independence Center’s services include employment programs; community support to help members manage any obstacles; psychiatric care and counseling; housing, including 24-hour monitored care; and health care that focuses on all dimensions of wellness. This year, the organization’s clinic, IC Health Group, brought on a new psychiatric nurse practitioner and started offering telepsychiatry sessions so members can receive counseling remotely using videoconferencing. “Around 200 people utilize the telepsychiatry,” Berger says. “It has helped us increase our capacity quite significantly, so our members have better access to care.”

This year, Dancing with the St. Louis Stars raised more than $600,000 to support the nonprofit’s programs, and Berger hopes next year’s event on Jan. 18 at The Ritz-Carlton will be an even bigger success. “We have dancers from a variety of backgrounds, and we are thrilled by their enthusiasm and support,” she says. “They’re going to put on a really fun and diverse show.” Current champs Ally Nichols and her partner, Mike McAllister of Dance Pizazz, will make an appearance. To crown a new Dancing Champion, guests can make $10 donations to support their favorite competitors. This year, there will be a prize for whoever votes the most at the event.

Chris Hampel will participate as a representative for Independence Center. He connected with the nonprofit in 2014 while dealing with homelessness and repeated hospitalizations. “He owned his own construction company before his mental illness,” Berger says. “Working at the Clubhouse allowed him to reconnect with his drive to succeed.” Five years later, Hampel is a shining example of the organization’s success. He has achieved independent living and is employed full-time at The Chase Park Plaza as a maintenance engineer. “Chris is going to be an amazing dancer for Independence Center,” Berger notes. “It’s been awesome to watch his success, and a lot of our members aspire to accomplish what he has. He is a great role model.”

Independence Center offers community-based rehabilitation programs for adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses. It hosts its annual dancing with the St. Louis Stars fundraising event Jan. 18, 2020, at the Ritz-Carlton. Pictured on the cover: participating dancers James Craven, Nancy Staudt, Chris Hampel, Laurie Phillips, Lynn Ann Vogel and Angelleen Peters-Lewis. For tickets and information. call 314.880.5404 or visit

Cover courtesy of Independence Center

Pictured at top: Laurie Phillips, Laurie Phillips, James Craven, Nancy Staudt, Angelleen Peters-Lewis, Lynn Ann Vogel 
Photo courtesy of Independence Center