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Picnic gives clients a needed break

July 26, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Work, friends, recreation, emotional support - these are vital components of life for all people, including the mentally ill.

That was illustrated Wednesday when the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Washington County held its annual summer picnic for clients, staff, board members, families and health care professionals.

"These kinds of activities are important, for all of us,'' said Connie Pauley, the new president of the organization.

Despite the chilly weather, there were sporting events and games along with picnic foods and socializing.

The Alliance is made up of families and friends of people with long-term mental illness. It came into being in the 1970s when mental hospitals around the country were closed, growing out of contact with the Washington County Health Department's Mental Health Clinic.

The group raises money for emergency needs such as medications, security deposits on apartments, basic living needs, eyeglasses, dental work, driving lessons and tuition, to name a few, Pauley said.

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And recently, Alliance members have been called upon to help clients understand the new Medicare and Medicaid rules, helping them to fill out their paperwork properly, Pauley said.

Fund-raisers include yard sales, A Walk Through History at the Antietam National Battlefield, barbecues and dinners.

At Wednesday's picnic, a lot of the conversation was about cutbacks in the hours of an evening recreation center on Frederick Street.

"This is a real loss to me,'' said Patricia Kline, a client who helped out at the rec center when it was open six nights a week.

Rule changes have recently mandated that the center must require users to participate in classes in order to qualify for the recreation.

Kline said many clients already take lots of classes through Turning Point and simply need a place where they can have pure recreation for a while.

"This is a necessary outlet for us,'' Kline said.

Todd Whittington, another client, echoed that sentiment.

"It's really all screwed up - clients take classes all day,'' Whittington said. "It's important to my lifestyle.''

In the meantime, the Alliance continues to sponsor a Journey of Hope education course, a 12-week series of classes for families of persons with serious mental illness.

Classes for the next session will begin in September at Trinity Lutheran Church, 15 Randolph Ave, Hagerstown.

The course covers information about schizophrenia and the affective disorders - bi-polar illness and major depression; coping skills, such as handling crisis and relapse; basic information about medications; listening and communication techniques; problem-solving skills; recovery and rehabilitation; and self-care.

The free course is designed specifically for parents, siblings, spouses, teenage and adult children and significant others of people with severe and persistent psychiatric disabilities.

For information or to register for Journey of Hope, call Nancy or Bill Kercheval at 301-824-4691.

In Washington County, the Alliance meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown. For more information, call the Alliance at 301-714-0901.

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