Helping adults cope with mental illness Center eases return to community life SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

October 13, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The caption for a photograph that appeared Tuesday's Carroll County edition should have identified the exercise instructor at A.S.P.I.R.E. as Peggy Taylor.

5) The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Depression had such a hold on the woman, she could hardly walk into the A.S.P.I.R.E. center in Sykesville a few months ago.

Now, the same woman is chatting happily with staff and clients and caring for the center's greenery.

"I got all the plants back to the land of the living," she says with a smile. "A place to go, people to meet and things to do can keep these people out of the hospital," says Carolyn C. Workman, 63, program coordinator of the Adult Support Program in a Rehabilitative Environment.


Every day, the staff at the Main Street center sees small miracles, says Ms. Workman, a social worker involved in the rehabilitation program since it began in 1975, when the state "deinstitutionalized" many patients in its hospitals.

"Deinstitutionalization -- I hate that word -- pushed people from psychiatric hospitals back into the community," she says. "My job originally was to find them homes."

Many former patients had lost connections with their families. The state placed them in homes that met their physical needs but often did not provide activities to integrate them back into the life of the community. "They were comfortable and cared for, but they were not learning the skills they needed," she says. "Our program evolved to serve those needs and help clients to maintain themselves in the community."

They learn new job skills or relearn cooking and home-management skills, she says.

As Ms. Workman walks through the center, its friendly atmosphere bustles with activity.

In the kitchen, four women are preparing salad for lunch, as a group leaves for a food-shopping trip. Two clients are typing resumes in another room. Still others listen intently as Arlene Bowers, a therapist, reads a lively interpretation of "The Raven."

All around the center is evidence of tasks completed by the clients. Dried-flower arrangements, seasonal decorations and bird houses share space with ceramics waiting for a painter's brush.

"We don't have enormous space, but we use it well," she says. "We don't have a lot of money, but we make it count."

Visitors' attention is immediately drawn to a personalized quilt hanging on the activity room wall.

"Each person made a picture for a quilt square and signed it," says Ms. Workman. "Then, everyone stitched it together."

Photo albums, many filled with pictures from field trips, line the shelves. Fall flowers bloom in window boxes. Clients make curtains, paint the bathrooms and keep the center clean. They shop for soda and snacks from the canteen. They exercise both in class and on the center's equipment.

"We take pride in our homey, accepting atmosphere," she says. The center serves about 42 clients now, many referred by local health agencies. During an initial interview, both Ms. Workman and the staff psychiatrist discuss the program with clients, who range in age from 18 to senior citizens.

"We see if we have what they need and want," she says. "They decide if they want to join us. Participation is completely voluntary."

Once a client decides "we are for them," the staff assesses a patient's needs and devises an individual treatment plan. "Whatever their needs are, we try to help," she says. "They can sign up for whatever task they want."

Many of the clients' crafts help to pay for outings to area restaurants and field trips. A.S.P.I.R.E. sold ceramics, dried flower arrangements and home-made iced tea at Sykesville's Fall Fest.

"The town people are great," says Ms. Workman. "I think they have the notion we are here and want to be part of the community."

The staff encourages clients to attend community events.

Duration of a client's stay varies. Many reach the point where they can leave the center behind. "Mental illness is just like any other illness," she says. "You get treatment and you go on and live your life."

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