I am privileged to work for a wonderful organization. New Visions, Inc. started out as a small mental health housing agency about 20 years ago. At that time, there were no residential opportunities for people with mental health illnesses in this area. Seven churches in the Chambersburg area got together to work on a solution. At that time, organizations in other places were organizing and creating group homes, where mentally ill people could live together, safely and with staff there 24/7 to help them learn skills sufficient to be able to live in the community. A small group home was planned and opened. That was the beginning………
Mental illness knows no prejudice. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color, what language you speak, what economic status: 1% of people world-wide have significant mental illnesses. It just strikes. It could be anyone you know.
Wow, what New Visions has been able to do in 20 years! With the support of the communities in which we function and the counties who work with us and largely fund us, and with the help of all the great staff, New Visions is now serving people in 3 counties! Our Executive Director, Craig Cordell, is amazing in the way he has a vision of what all people want and need: people want a nice place to live, safety, peace, friends, a job, and happiness. Craig sees the vision and always finds ways to carry the vision forward. New Visions is a good place to be, whether you are a client or a staff person. The agency has a family feeling: we all help each other with things and work together as a team. We see the vision too!
Our logo features what we call our “jumping man.” We want each of our folks we work with to be as happy and lively as our jumping man. We all try to help make that happen for them each day.
From one small group home, we now have 2 large group homes, and separate apartments in 3 towns, where our folks live in their own apartment with a staff member there in the complex to help them with things. We also have Supported Living, where clients live out in the community in apartments with case managers to visit them and assist. We also have two member run drop-in programs, where members do activities together and give each other support and friendship.
The newest addition to our services is Fairweather Lodges. I am Lodge Coordinator for two of our Lodges, in Shippensburg and Carlisle. We also have a Lodge in Newport, Perry County. From the Lodge in Newport, the Lodge Coordinator, Bill McHenry, was able to form a business consisting of transportation and cleaning services. Some clients from all our Lodges now work in that business.
Fairweather Lodges are still a new concept, and we take every opportunity to educate people about this new and exciting way for people with mental illnesses to live. Dr. George Fairweather worked in a state hospital in the 60’s, and saw that living that way was not suitable for many people who were living there. He had a vision too: that people are people, and should live in communities, cos that’s what people do. He took that idea and found a house he could use, and helped several people move there. There was lots of staff at first, cos these were people who had been institutionalized for years. Institutionalized people forget how to do the everyday things we all take for granted: buying groceries, paying the phone bill, doing the laundry.
These folks were maintained by the staff until they learned skills that they could use every day. As a person who has lived a regular life, we tend to forget that the things we do each day take skills. You never thought about having and using skills to do your laundry, did you? These folks didn’t have those skills. But some of them quickly learned the skills they needed, and began being part of their community and working, and …LIVING! They didn’t need to be maintained any more, and who wants to live life being maintained? People want to be people, and these were people all along, but now they knew they were.
Mentally ill people are…..people. They like puppies, and sunsets, and cheeseburgers, and want to learn what it’s like to live a full life…..just like the “other” people. Fairweather Lodges give them an opportunity to do that.
There are now Lodges in 10 states. Lodges typically start a small business for their members to work in a safe environment. Not every member in each Lodge works for the Lodge business: some have their own jobs when the come to Lodges. Each Lodge has a Lodge Coordinator, who spends some time with each member to get to know them well. Lodge Coordinators serve many roles: teacher, confidant, cheerleader, shoulder to cry on, mentor, but we are not in charge! The Lodge members make their own decisions, including who comes to live in the Lodge. The current membership interviews and votes on new applicants. Members may stay at Lodges as long as they like: there is no time limit.
We operate in a concept called Recovery. Recovery means learning what your mental illness is, how it acts, and how you can learn to manage it, instead of letting it managing you. Our top priority at Lodges is to keep members out of the hospital, and that is going well.
In the Lodges I work with are seven amazing men. Each is now having the kind of life he wants. Each makes decisions for his own life and functions well within the Lodge and the neighborhood. People, ordinary people, who have a facet to their lives a little different from others of us. They have to work a little harder at life to be able to live a good life. But the world needs to remember that they are people, who like puppies, and sunsets, and cheeseburgers.
The Shippensburg Lodge is called Penny Lane Lodge, cos it is on Penn Street and the original Lodge members were all Beatles fans! I’m happy to be considered a family member there.