To make art requires material, expertise, patience and a place to work. None of the ingredients are inexpensive. I’m interested in becoming an art therapist. However, in the least pricy program available in New York City each book runs me about $125 and each piece of art costs at least $250 to make from start to finish. It’s very expensive. It’s too expensive even for full federal and state grants and the little money I get from social security disability to cover the costs of supplies and books.
Luckily there are still ways of getting the help I need to make it through school without incurring serious debt. One of those ways is the Fountain House Scholarship. Every semester for the past two years, I have been taking two art classes and two psychology classes. Applying to the Fountain House Scholarship has allowed me to pay for materials and books needed for my classes on time. I don’t have to worry about waiting until my Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) payment comes through, usually weeks after school starts, to have enough money for all the startup costs. And I get to save my TAP monies for all the projects later in the semester, which normally cost me more because they are the finals I need to do the best on.
Now you may think it’s hard to go to school, and that is true. You may also think it’s hard to apply for the Fountain House Scholarship and go before the review committee, but that is false. School is work. It’s hard, sometimes I want to give up, but I fight through. There are assignments to finish, papers to write, tests to take. It is a full-time job – even when attending college part time. However, the Scholarship application is easy. Name, address, worker, what do you want to take; write a short essay; provide a printout of the class you want to take and you’re done! The interview is easy, too: go before a group of about five people - fellow members, board members, administrators - and talk about what you want to do.
Here’s the hard part of the Scholarship: George Handran, the man responsible for the Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Foundation, who ensures we get our scholarships each year, thanks me for being there. He thanks me for giving me money to go to school by which he can honor Mr. Baer’s legacy. And every time I tear up, and in that moment I know that I have to do my best because Mr. Baer didn’t have the same chances and because I want to set an example for my fellow members. Because someone believes in me enough to hand me $500 to work towards my goals – the ones that doctors told me I was never going to achieve.
This last semester I didn’t think I would make it. It was the first time I had gotten seriously depressed since 2008. A series of deaths in the family, friends getting ill, and my own medical issues overwhelmed me to the point where I was unable to concentrate. My ability to sit in class dwindled and I felt the need to do something to show how low I was. It was at the moment I began to step into a pond at Central Park that I knew I needed help. So I reached out. I contacted the counseling office at school, spoke to my Accessibility adviser, saw my psychiatrist (my medication levels were dangerously low because I wasn’t taking them properly), and met with my worker at Fountain House. This is the first time I’ve been depressed and in college when I’ve had support.
Support doesn’t mean everything was done for me. I still had the autonomy to choose how to get help, but this time I also had people behind me to help me get to my goals. And because I had planned for the return of depression or mania, I had options to choose from. My goals were to save my grades from the havoc that depression wreaks. I spoke with my advisor, and I decided to take incompletes in my sculpture and statistics classes because they required a lot of physical or mental work. I kept taking the two psychology classes because they only required memorization; no projects, papers or heavy physical work. My condition had been documented, so I could do this with no penalty.
This semester I will finish those two classes because I am starting to feel better, and I won’t be getting F’s like I did back in 2002 when I didn’t have the support I do now.
The real lesson is that success is based on what my own idea of success is. For me, it’s getting the best education I can with consideration to my health and well-being. To be true to myself and admit when I need help or need to take some time off. And to know that the entire Fountain House community will be behind me the whole way, no matter what, to help me do my best. The best part of all is that I know George and the rest of the committee will be in that room, year after year, semester after semester, thanking each one of the Fountain House Scholarship applicants for their courage, their hard work, their will to go on, and their ability to give back to the community.
It was my pleasure to sit on the Academic Scholarship Committee on July 29th and 30th and to be a part of the scholarship awards for the 43 deserving candidates. This was my first encounter with Fountain House since I was elected to the Board of Directors. I was so moved by the members and their presentations - students applying for support for single courses, undergraduate programs, MBAs, and PHDs.
These people were awesome! They presented articulate, well thought-out essays and spoke knowledgeably about their goals. Many are faced with adversity, lots of "red tape" with the larger system, and they are willing to plow through for something bigger. It was inspiring to see the relationships that have been built between the members, staff workers, and Committee: people helping people, giving a hand up, not hand out. Thank you to George Handran and the Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Foundation for making it possible for these wonderful people to pursue their dreams.
I look forward to seeing everyone again in November and hearing your updates on your schooling and what’s next. Best of luck to those soon to begin their fall class/classes.
Mary Q. Pedersen Board of Directors, Fountain House
ALL ticket sales are now CLOSED! Please contact Susan Bell at 212.874.5457 with any inquiries.
The Associates Committee of Fountain House will host their sixth annual Fall Fête on Wednesday, November 6, 2013. This event serves to introduce a new audience of prominent young leaders to Fountain House’s comprehensive mental health model and its mission to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.
In the beginning of July, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to Lisbon, Portugal with Dr. Ralph Aquila and Alan Doyle, Fountain House’s Director of Education. The three of us, along with Dr. Juan Pedro Sapene of Argentina and Bertil Hartoch, a social psychiatric nurse from Holland, presented at the 21st World Congress of Social Psychiatry. The aim of our presentation was to share with mental health providers from all over the world the Fountain House model of recovery as it is now linked with integrative care and the Sidney Baer Jr. Center.
It was truly an amazing experience. I have never travelled very far from New York City. Everything was new for me: international airports, passports security screening, currency exchange, and simply being a foreigner in a European country. I believe that there is a lot of similarity between the states of anxiety and excitement; at times, I felt both.
Dr. Aquila and I flew out together from Newark airport on Sunday night June 29, 2013. We arrived in Lisbon on Sunday morning at around 10:00 AM. I can now sympathize with frequent travelers—jet lag is a really weird feeling. It’s like having a massive hangover minus the headache. Somehow, I managed to attend a couple of presentations by other participants on the same day that we arrived. What I learned was truly an eye opener for me.
What we do here at Fountain House is really cutting edge. It became obvious to me that mental health care in other countries, including “first world” nations, leaves much to be desired. Most mental health care providers still seem to be at a point of just trying to reach and provide basic psychiatric care to those in need within their respective populations; the critical issues of rehabilitation, recovery, integration, and healing into wholeness are barely addressed. It truly gave me a much deeper and profound appreciation towards our Fountain House community.
Our panel presented on Tuesday morning, July 2, 2013. We spoke at the University of Lisbon in a huge auditorium that seemed like it could seat 1000 people. I counted about 100 or so audience members. Each of us took turns and shared to the best of our ability various aspects of the Fountain House model. As everyone in our community knows, it’s hard to qualify and quantify exactly what occurs within our doors—so much is nuance here. What I tried to share was the fact that members here at Fountain House have the opportunity to define their own recovery as they discover and actualize their own innate talents. Consumers in many other countries are simply considered patients. The pursuit of self-realization and actualization is not even approached.
I have been a member of Fountain House for some time; I became a member in 1996. However, representing Fountain House members on this trip to Lisbon was a first for me. I learned so much about myself as a consumer in recovery, as well as the deep and genuine dedication our professional facilitators have toward us.
In recent years, the Wellness, Culinary, and Horticulture Units have been working together to introduce healthier food into our community. In addition to growing our own food at Fountain House and at High Point Farm, staff and members of the Wellness Unit explored ways we could benefit from the greenmarkets throughout the city, perhaps by van trips to the markets. Instead, an even better way for members and staff to enjoy fresh, local produce was devised. The greenmarkets came to us in the name of GrowNYC.
Fountain House purchases each week a variety of bushels of fresh produce. Interested members and staff purchase a burlap Fountain House Wellness Market bag and fill it with either a $4 selection of produce or a $7 selection of produce. As an added convenience, simple recipes for cooking the vegetables are available. The Wellness Market opened for business at the beginning of June and consistently sells to more than 50 customers each week.
The first week I shopped I forgot to get the recipes. I didn’t recognize the gourmet salad lettuce, and I steamed it. Actually, it was pretty good steamed, but now I get the recipes. This past week I cooked Swiss chard. It was the first time I tried this vegetable, and it was delicious. I also made peas on the pod with a spring onion. I understand next week we are getting heritage colored carrots and strawberries.
Not only is this food very economical but many members like me eat too much of the wrong food. GrowNYC food is diverse and encourages us to eat healthy. It is available every Tuesday from 2 to 4 PM in the Wellness Unit.
Vivian Palazzolo Reception Unit and Board of Directors, Fountain House
What do we do about Olivia? Olivia is a 50-year old African-American woman who has schizophrenia, a Fountain House member who is currently homeless. She also has an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) order which legally mandates her to take her medication and go to treatment. And yet, two days ago, Olivia was sitting on a nearby stoop on 47th Street with thirty bags of stuff spread out over all the stairs, talking to the voices in her head, ignoring any entreaties from passers-by.
It’s disheartening, because we have seen her be so much better.
We’ve spoken to her psychiatrist, but she doesn’t really have an answer except to tell us to call 911. We have called 911 many times in the past, and Olivia has gone to the hospital many times in the past – at least three times this year alone. When she enters the hospital, they help stabilize her medicine, but they only keep her for a short time. When they release her, she is once again on the street. She is lost to her intensive case manager because she has no phone and no address.
The face of healthcare, especially mental healthcare, is changing. Many of the new integrated care scenarios rely on computer tracking systems to manage cases and coordinate service delivery. However, these solutions will not work for someone like Olivia. Computer systems can neither develop relationships nor attract people to them.
Even though her illness doesn’t allow Olivia to trust anyone right now, she continues to show up on 47th Street because she has friends at Fountain House. When we see her, we try to reengage her into our working community as the first step toward getting her to slow down, take her medicine, and find a place to live. Ultimately that’s what will reach Olivia: one good, solid relationship with a worker or member of Fountain House who will take the time to convince her to do what needs to be done. And she’ll do it because, even through the haze of her illness, she trusts that person.