STEL 2013 luncheon honors dedicated individuals and organizations

MAYVILLE – Southern Tier Environments for Living celebrated National Mental Health Month by honoring several individuals and organizations at a recent luncheon at Chautauqua Suites Meeting and Conference Center in Mayville. The 2013 luncheon also featured keynote speaker Kenneth Houseknecht, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Erie County. The topic of his presentation was “Mental Health: How to protect it; Mental Illness: How to respond to it.”

Winner of the “2012 DuBois Award for Employee of the Year” is Cuba resident Margaret Bulson. DuBois, one of the founders of Southern Tier Environments for Living, helped to incorporate STEL as a non-profit agency. She believed that people with mental illness can live productive lives outside the confines of mental hospitals. In his nomination narrative, STEL assistant executive director Bob Roth reported, “Based on my supervisory association over the past twenty years, I can testify to Peggy’s genuine interest in STEL’s mission. Her dedication to providing exceptional services to the residents living in the Olean program has been remarkable. Peggy excels in many areas of her residential management position.”

The “Success of the Year” award is presented annually to a recipient of STEL services who has demonstrated exceptional progress in achieving personal rehabilitation goals. The winner of this year’s award is Gowanda resident Samantha Brode. Brode moved into the Aldrich Community Residence at the age of 18 in 2010. She learned about the GOALS program at Erie Community College in Buffalo, a program designed to help individuals with mental health diagnoses successfully complete their educational goals. However, attending the program was no easy task, as she would have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. each morning, endure a three to four hour round-trip using public transportation each day, and attend the GOALS program in the morning and ECC credit courses in the afternoon. Brode stayed committed to this for a year. In spite of the fact that public transportation was discontinued in the Gowanda area and that she had to transfer to a different campus and pay for transportation on her own, Brode has successfully completed two semesters toward her associate’s degree.

In October 2003, John Theismann, vocational specialist in STEL’s Work Force Program, passed away. He was a dedicated individual who cared for his clients and helped to ensure their success in the workplace. In his memory, STEL established the John Theismann Vocational Services Award that honors STEL clients who are successful not only at work, but also in overcoming barriers inside and outside the workplace. The recipient of this year’s award is Frank Weise of Gowanda. He has maintained a 20-hour part-time schedule since his employment at the Kazoo Factory in Eden and takes pride in his position there. Frank is also a member of the STEL Consumer Council and has been for years. He communicates pertinent information shared during these meetings with his peers at each month’s resident meetings.

Several years ago STEL introduced two “Community Service Awards,” one for an individual and one for an organization. The awards have the following criteria: (1) Selection is based on volunteer or professional service to individuals in the Southern Tier community who have psychiatric disabilities; and (2) The quality of the service must be documented in a narrative that provides specific examples. The recipient of this year’s “Community Service Award to an Individual” is Fredonia resident Beverly Barnes. STEL board member Pauline Sesnie nominated Barnes for the award. Pauline wrote,” I have known Bev Barnes for approximately 15 years. She was with Compeer for a few years before me. I have found Bev to be a caring, lovely person…Bev is a mentor to several Compeer youth as well as adults throughout her Compeer career. She also has another Compeer friend, Kathy Wasmund, who wishes to put in her vote for Bev. Bev has been a big help to both of us.”

The winner of this year’s “Community Service Award to an Organization” is the Care Center Pharmacy in Dunkirk. STEL’s Dunkirk Treatment Apartments and Park Avenue Community Residence staff and residents report that they have been working with the Care Center Pharmacy which relocated to Lucas Avenue approximately eight years ago. The award was accepted by the pharmacy’s manager Darla Fleckenstein.

Houseknecht’s keynote presentation focused on four main points: friendship, forgiveness, faith and fun. In the section on mental illness, Houseknecht discussed the fact that four out of five people with mental illness never receive treatment. Early intervention has been shown to increase the potential for successful outcomes. Significant impairment can result if a decade or more goes by before treatment.

The awards were presented by STEL executive director Thomas J. Whitney and David Maternowski, president of the STEL board of directors. Jacqueline Chiarot, representing UN Representative Tom Reed; and Lisa Vanstrom, representing State Senator Catharine Young, presented merit certificates to the award winners. Fr. Joseph Vatter, pastor of All Saints Church in Lockport and STEL board member, offered the Invocation. Dennis Webster of Media One acted as master of ceremonies.

STEL offers residential and rehabilitation services to individuals with psychiatric disabilities. The agency’s service area includes Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and southern Erie Counties. For further information, contact the STEL administrative offices at 715 Central Ave., Dunkirk, or call 366-3200. The website is