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Wichita Falls man named president of national mental health organization

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A Wichita Falls man who once led churches from the pulpit has now stepped into a different far-reaching leadership role as the president of a national mental health organization. During an interview in his Chief Executive Officer's office at the Wood Group Headquarters today, Thursday, May 8 in this North Texas city of 105,000, Jerry Parker said the speaking experience he gained while pastoring several churches has carried over into his role not only as head of the Wood Group, but also in his position as president of the National Association of Rural Mental Health (NARMH).

"We like to think of the Wood Group as the best kept secret in Wichita Falls," Parker said, from where he sat behind his desk in his ornate office.

Parker, who transitioned from helping others as a pastor in 1987 when he joined the Wood Group, now heads an organization which has expanded from one original location to 30 scattered across the Lone Star State. Parker, who attended Wichita Falls High School, earned a bachelor's degree from Midwestern State University in 1977 after graduating from WFHS.

He later earned his M.A. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1981 in Fort Worth which qualified him to help others through the ministry. Although he successfully served others through the ministry behind several pulpits across North Texas, he has since reached and been able to help many people through a different venue with the Wood Group.

Edgar and Irene Wood founded the Wood Care Centers in 1969 to provide nursing home care in North Texas. A decision was made by Mike Wood and his sister Mary and his brother Aaron in 1993 to divest themselves of the nursing centers and concentrate their efforts on developing a mental health company. Parker said he believes today that the family made the right move.

That decision proved to be a wise one as the organization's growth has exploded since then. The mission statement of the Wood Group is as follows: "The mission of The Wood Group is to provide quality mental health programs that assist individuals with mental illness to live independent and productive lives within their communities."

The brochure of the Wood Group also states, "The Wood Group has been providing behavioral health services to the mental health community of Texas since 1980. Our behavioral health services have been designed to meet the needs of individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. We have worked hard to develop partnerships with local Community Centers and other agencies to provide quality services."

Parker has played an expanding role in the mental health community not only in Wichita Falls, but also across the United States. As Chief Executive Officer for the Wood Group since 1987, he is responsible for the development and implementation of the programs and services provided by the organization.

He has also served as past president and board member of the Mental Health Association of Wichita County. He further served three years on the NAMI State Board of Directors and is the former Vice President of NAMI of Wichita County. He also served many years on the Board of Texas Homeless Network.

He is also a past member of the State Board of Directors for the Mental Health Association of Texas and for the Board of Directors for the South Texas Behavioral Health Partnership. In 1995, he was the recipient of the Helen Farabee Award for outstanding volunteer services to the mentally ill in North Texas.

His service extended to the national level nine years ago when he was named to the National Board of Directors for the National Association for Rural Mental Health. He is the current president of NARMH and also serves on the board of directors for NACBHDD. He is also a current member of the LANAC committe of Texas.

His wife Janie also serves the public as a school teacher in Wichita Falls and they have three children Jeremy, Kayla, and Sarah and 3 grandchildren.

While the expansion from one facility in Quanah, Texas to 30 centers across the Lone Star State has been remarkable under his leadership, Parker said Chief Financial Officer Mark Bruce has played a key role in the organization's growth. Bruce has served as Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer for the Wood Group since 1989. He is responsible for business planning, budgeting and financial management for the Wood Group.

With his national position have come even broader responsibilities for Parker who is looking forward to the upcoming meeting in Washington D.C. of the NARMH national convention July 17-19. This will be the 40th annual meeting of the group.

As busy as Parker has been with all his duties for the ever-expanding Wood Group and serving on various state and national mental health boards, it would seem difficult for him to find time to spend on hobbies. However, the CEO said he does enjoy traveling. He has been able to travel to Hawaii, Alaska and San Diego as part of his work.

While he was born in Okarche, Oklahoma and grew up in El Reno and Oklahoma City through the third grade, he has been a Wichitan since the third grade. He graduated from high school and college in the City That Faith Built.

Parker said he dreamed of being a professional baseball player as a child growing up.

It is fortunate for all the people across Texas and the United States that Parker has helped, that he ended up as CEO of the Wood Group rather than playing shortstop for the Texas Rangers. And despite the incredible success of the Wood Group, he said today he is not through.

"We (the Wood Group) would like to continue growing. We have three additional programs being developed as we speak," the energetic CEO said.

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