Since 1996, Perry Wellness Center has been providing services to the community, under different names and leadership. One current peer member, Annie Ruth Thomas, has been along for the journey at every stage.
Recently, Annie Ruth agreed to share some of her memories of the program’s early days, as well as what it means to her today. In the first part of her reminiscences, she reflects on the first days of the program:
“I began visiting Tom Perry Peer Center in 1996, with Diane, Joan, Bill, and Scott. This lasted for a couple of years, and then Ken Whitten took over the center for a couple of years.”
(Annie Ruth refers to the period when peer activist Whitten purchased the rights to the original program on the Plains Highway.)
“I guess Stuart had a dream for people with mental illness after all he had been through with the death of his father.”
(She refers to the time when founder Stuart Perry’s father committed suicide during a bout of depression, while Stuart was home from college.)
“Stuart decided that a dream can come true. He put a lot of hard work and love in the Perry Wellness Center. He walked from Americus to Chicago.”
(She recalls Stuart’s 1999 Mental Health America-sponsored walk to raise awareness about mental illness.)
“With God’s help, Stuart’s dream came true. Stuart, members of the Perry family, and other men got together to build the Perry Wellness Center after the tornado in 2007. At first, it was only Stuart and some other men working on the center. These early men were Edward T., Tony J., Thomas W., and Willie B. They worked very hard on this project.
“Stuart let everybody know that his work was not in vain. Some people doubted him, but he looked beyond their talk and disbelief, and he did it by the help of God, his wife, Pam; daughter Amanda, and some close friends.”
In Part II of her reflections, Annie Ruth Thomas describes her return to the revitalized program, and her role in improving mealtimes at the center.