Lessons of the GeeseLast week we began to share the story of Annie Ruth Thomas, who tells us in her own words about her history with Perry Wellness Center. In today's reflections, Miss Annie Ruth describes her return to the center after it evolved from the Tom Perry Peer Center to Perry Wellness Center, under founder Stuart Perry's leadership.

"I started in May of 2007 when my mother died. I was diagnosed with mild depression, and Stuart came by my house one day and asked me to come and visit the center and try it out. I did! We all know Stuart and he can be very convincing sometimes. He refuses to take 'no' for an answer.

"So I went on out to Perry Wellness Center and enjoyed it very much. Stuart and I became very good friends. He started out with 20 people. At the time, we would go walking, play volleyball, tennis, and other fun activities. We had fun! A couple of our peers died along the way. Yes we still made things work. If anyone felt down and out, Stuart would encourage us and say, 'Suck it up.' Sometimes things go hard, but you have to pick yourself up and go on. Stuart always had a way with words that made you feel better about yourself."

Annie Ruth Thomas goes on to describe the early meals at the center, which were delivered by an organization that also provided food delivery to the elderly.

"Stuart and the center were eating 'Meals on Wheels.' The peers always came to me and shared their wishes for some 'real' food. I prayed about it and then I went to Stuart and asked him could I cook sometimes. He agreed with me, so he and I began to work on a new meal program.

"With 'Meals on Wheels,' the peers were throwing away more food than they were eating. I brought my electric skillet and pots from home. We started cooking eventually at the center and quit 'Meals on Wheels.' This move was a good thing. Soon, the local health department heard about our new kitchen and tried to shut us down!"

After straightening out the bureaucratic problems, the kitchen at Perry Wellness Center continued to flourish.

In the last part of this series, Miss Annie Ruth will describe the growth of the program and what it has meant to her own life.

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