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Education is vital in understanding mental illness

February 12, 2002

Education is vital in understanding mental illness



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A. Kenneth Wuertenberg has found a home, one he had been looking for for years.

Wuertenberg, 45, became the executive director of the Franklin & Fulton Mental Health Association on Jan 2.

He is the only employee of the nonprofit association at 127 S. Second St.

It was founded in 1959 and is affiliated with the National Mental Health Association. It's run by an eight-member board of directors and depends on grants and endowments for its $60,000 annual budget.

The association is an advocate for the mentally ill, promotes mental health and prevention of mental illness and refers clients and their families to programs and agencies that provide health care and services.

"We don't do anything clinical here," Wuertenberg said. "When people call in I tell them that I can't help them, but I can send them to people who can."

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Wuertenberg's first responsibility is the development of a five-year plan to see what direction the association will take. He will survey clients, their families, mental health care providers and other nonprofit groups.

The main goal will be education, he said. "We have to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and mentally ill people. One out of five people are affected by mental illness, either directly or through a family member."

One of the association's most popular programs is Pierre the Pelican, which helps first-time mothers cope with caring for their babies for the first year.

Between 700 and 800 mothers in Franklin and Fulton counties participate in the program.

Each month, mothers get a newsletter that follows their baby's development through its first year. It tells mothers what they should expect and offers suggestions.

"Babies don't come with handbooks. This helps," Wuertenberg said.

He grew up in Montgomery County, Md., and took what he says was a circuitous route to his job with the association. He did not go to college.

His first job after high school was with the Montgomery County Parks Department. In 15 years he worked himself up to supervisor. "When I finally got there I realized I wasn't happy," he said. He started his own general contracting business, which he ran for five years before realizing that was not what he wanted either.

Then it was two years in the Americorps working at Greenbrier State Park. He built up the volunteer program and established three friends-of-the-park groups.

"I found that I really liked working with volunteers," Wuertenberg said. "I knew when I left the Americorps that I would do something in that field."

He got a job with Catholic Charities working in its Self Help And Resource Exchange or SHARE program in the agency's Hancock office. His territory covered all of Western Maryland, West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle and south central Pennsylvania.

He saw a newspaper ad for the Franklin & Fulton Mental Health Association position and applied. "I saw an opportunity to take the talents that I have developed over the years and bring them to bear," he said.

Wuertenberg lives in Big Cove Tannery in Fulton County with his wife and son.

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