STEL celebrates National Mental Health Month with luncheon

Southern Tier Environments for Living celebrated National Mental Health Month at a recent luncheon at Chautauqua Suites Meeting and Conference Center. The luncheon featured Keynote Speaker Anthony Rudnicki, author of “Bipolar Buffalo-A Mosaic of Minds Journey. His topic: “The Bipolar Advantage: the Link to Creativity.”

Winner of the “2013 DuBois Award for Employee of the Year” is Dunkirk resident Paula Barron. DuBois, one of the founders of Southern Tier Environments for Living, helped to incorporate STEL as a non-profit agency. He believed that people with mental illness can live productive lives, outside the confines of a mental hospital. Her nomination narrative begins, “Paula always goes above and beyond in her duties at the Dunkirk Treatment Apartment Program.” One resident in particular commented, “A client certainly gets her money’s worth when she has Paula as a counselor. Resident safety is always her primary concern. She has excellent observation skills and on a number of occasions has alerted her supervisor to potential crisis situations. Recently one resident that Paula had on her caseload was diagnosed with advanced COPD and given six months to live. During this time Paula was a main support to him. She maintained close contact with Hospice and she provided an enormous amount of support in helping the resident prepare for his death. She was also at his bedside the majority of time in the days leading to his death. Paula is a compassionate person and the program is fortunate to have her as part of our team.”

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 Wellsville resident Shayna Clark. When Shayna was admitted to the Wellsville group home in November 2012, her anxiety level was almost debilitating. She was so fearful that she didn’t want to come out of her bedroom and she struggled just to come down to the office to take her medication. Within a month of her move into the group home Shayna was volunteering two mornings a week at Head Start, working with preschoolers which she loved. In spring 2013 she started receiving her mental health services from the Elmira Psych Center Outpatient Clinic. When her job at Head Start ended with the school year, the ladies at the Clinic offered her a chance to work there as a receptionist three days a week. According to the nomination narrative, “By 11 months later Shayna had blossomed from a scared little girl into a competent young woman and participated in a teleconference with the governing body of the Clinic, where she talked about her experiences with STEL and the Clinic and how the programs had helped her.”

In October 2003, John Theismann, vocational specialist in STEL’s Work Force Program, passed away. He was a dedicated individual who cared for his consumers and helped to ensure their success in the workplace. In his memory, STEL established the John Theismann Vocational Services Award that honors consumers who are successful, not only at work, but also in overcoming barriers, both inside and outside the workplace. The recipient of this year’s award is Olean resident Matthew Pietrkiewiz. Matthew was in the Olean Treatment Apartment Program from April 2012 through June 2013. Within four months of entering the program, Matt had become clean and sober and made tremendous progress in his mental health recovery. By Thanksgiving he was having regular visits with his then 4-year-old daughter, who stayed with him every weekend. Prior to his admission to STEL, Matt had worked as a Therapeutic Support Staff for the Beacon Light facility in Bradford, Pa. He also had a bachelor’s degree and wanted to utilize his education. By May 2013, Matt had located an apartment in Olean and was able to return to his job several weeks after moving out of STEL. Matt continues to provide therapeutic support to children who are autistic. In one year, he overcame a serious addiction, stabilized his mental health, became independent and began working.

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 Jamestown resident Gail Coyle. During her 15 years as a Compeer volunteer, Gail has consistently been an asset to Compeer in a variety of capacities. She serves as a member of the Compeer Advisory Board on the Recruitment and Fundraising Committees and has secured a volunteer for the adult program. Year after year she obtains gift baskets and donations for the Compeer Fore Youth Golf Tournament. For the past few years she has volunteered her time to be the craft leader for a monthly Craft Group and has made over 100 homemade table favors for the Compeer Christmas Party. Gail was honored for her years of dedication and caring.

The winner of this year’s “Community Service Award to an Organization” is the Valley Pharmacy in Gowanda. One of the four nominations begins, “How could we ever survive without Valley Pharmacy?” Another nomination states, “The Gowanda STEL programs all utilize this pharmacy, which makes the medication ordering process of obtaining scripts, contacting doctors and working with insurance companies a seamless process.” Still another nomination reads, “Perkins Hall sometimes calls between 10- 15 times per day, due to the amount or medications we have and Valley staff never gets upset and always remain professional.” Finally, “The staff support our mission at STEL and look forward to helping our residents learn more about their medications so they can become more independent. They help guide them through the process of ordering, asking questions and learning more about each medication every day.”

Rudnicki’s keynote address included a brief account of his background as well as a description of his bipolar breakdowns. He listed four coping techniques that assist him: friends, work, exercise and fun. In line with STEL’s philosophy of hope, Rudnicki emphasized that happiness is found when people are able to love and be loved.

The awards were presented by STEL executive director Thomas J. Whitney and David Maternowski, president of the STEL board of directors. Jacqueline Chiarot, representing U.S. Representative Tom Reed, and Lisa Vanstrom, representing State Senator Catharine Young, presented merit certificates to the award winners. 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 716-366-3200. The website is STEL@stel.org.