For Otokar von Bradsky, 90, and his son Peter, 61, supporting Fountain House is about family lineage and legacy. "My mother, Wanda, - Peter's grandmother - lived with schizophrenia," Otokar explains.
Her diagnosis came unusually late in life, after she had raised two children as a working single mother, "caring for my sister and me as no other mother could,” he recalls. “She worked in department stores and at The Plaza Hotel. She was also very intellectual. She would read Nietzsche and all of the great philosophers.”
In the 1950's, before medication, the symptoms of her illness began to manifest. Otokar remembers getting a call at work informing him that his mother had been hospitalized. From that day on she was institutionalized, receiving shock treatment and ultimately passing away at Pilgrim State Hospital.
“I would visit her there weekly and take her to the beach on the Long Island Sound. Sometimes, I would compare her with the other patients at the hospital and wouldn’t really understand why she was there,” he recalls somberly.
Peter also remembers visiting his grandmother at Pilgrim State. “I was young and it was very frightening for a little kid. There were these women hanging out the windows calling out to me, ‘hey little boy’. I also remember my grandma visiting us at home during the holidays. She was always very quiet.”
Otokar doesn’t remember exactly how he first heard of Fountain House, but he has been a generous supporter for the past 15 years and, more recently, introduced the organization to his son. On a recent tour Peter saw the hydroponic garden. “It peaked my interest,” he says. For ten years, Peter has battled prostate cancer. Four years ago, he turned to a vegan diet in the hopes it might help.
“I’m not enough of an expert to say that diet could also help Fountain House members with their mental health, but I actually think it could,” Peter says.
And Fountain House agrees. Which is why, for the past 10 years, we have developed a robust and innovative wellness initiative focused on the connection between physical and mental health. Right now, plans are in the works to construct a rooftop greenhouse at the clubhouse in New York City and to create a Wellness Village at Fountain House Farm in New Jersey. Produce grown in the greenhouse would be used in the meals prepared by and for members in the culinary unit. At the farm, members could participate in retreats where they would learn about sustainable agriculture, healthy cooking and exercise.
Fountain House is deeply grateful that Otokar, a retired structural engineer, Peter, a construction supervisor, and Peter’s brother, also a structural engineer, have all volunteered their expertise to assist with these projects.
“I’m excited,” Peter beams. “I’ve been looking to get involved with an organization and these wellness projects seem like things I could help with. I would be happy to explore the benefits of a natural whole food diet and exercise program with Fountain House. We grow a lot of our own vegetables at our home and I know of the rewarding feeling one gets when working the soil and the garden.”
He grows more serious, “I too have gone through depression. I’ve been to counseling and I struggle with it sometimes still. I have also seen how depression, at times, has affected other members of our family.”
When Otokar comes to Fountain House his mom is always on his mind. “A member gave me a tour once and he said, ‘this place saved me.’ Otokar can’t help but think it may have done the same for his mother. When Peter comes to Fountain House, he does it to accompany his dad, to honor the memory of his grandmother and, because “knowing how depression feels really brings home the need and value of this wonderful place.”