This year, the Community Services Center is celebrating 31 years of serving and working closely with the international and local communities in Taipei and throughout Taiwan. During the past few weeks, several people have asked how the Center began. As a result of these requests, we are including an article written by Joel Wallach and Gale A. Metcalf, the Center’s first co-directors, and staff, explaining its early beginnings.
Members of the business, religious and U.S. Embassy communities came together in the mid- 1980s to look for ways to provide more comprehensive counseling support to the international community in Taipei. With assistance from the Office of Medical Services of the Department of State, they connected with the Community Services Association of Cairo, an expatriate mental health program in Egypt that we had started and were directing at that time. This resulted in the two of us being invited to conduct a mental health needs assessment for the Taipei expat community, and to make recommendations on how to address the issues identified.
The consultation ended with a job offer which brought us from Egypt to Taiwan in August 1988. In September, the Center began operations. With strong support from the business community, T.A.S., and the Taiwan Adventist Hospital, additional funds were raised that provided sufficient resources for an initial year of operations. We each worked half time at T.A.S., teaching an elective class in Human Relations and working out of the high school counseling department with at-risk teens, while developing prevention programs such as peer counseling, parent education and drug education programs. As a key service, the Counseling program was established at the Center, serving expatriates of all ages for a variety of concerns and staffed by professional counselors and psychologists from the community.
In addition to counseling services, a range of preventative services were put in place to help expatriates adjust and thrive in Taipei. This included a wide-ranging adult education program that offered more than fifty courses a term, focusing on Chinese language and culture, parenting and stress management as well as arts and hobbies. This was followed in quick order by the addition of orientation programs for newcomers, a pamphlet series on topical issues, regular radio segments on ICRT on adjustment, parenting and cross-cultural concerns and eventually the publication of the first edition of Taipei Living.
The Center succeeded because of the need for such a service, the willingness of the business community to support the service, and the commitment of some key individuals and institutions including Dr. Guy Lott of Taipei American School, John Brantingham, and Fred Voightman as well as the Taiwan Adventist Hospital, all of whom helped “birth” the organization. Many volunteers helped in various ways, and, of course, the efforts of the professional staff that provided critical counseling services, preventive mental programs and other activities to the Taipei community all contributed to the initial success of the Center.