Recently, we prepared a brief history of Perry Wellness Center and included a photograph of its original site (see above). Following is the article, which we will be sharing with local media outlets and others.
The roots of the thriving recovery program operated by Perry Wellness Center were first planted over a decade ago. Rather than the sprawling, landscaped campus that is the site of the center today, the initial program was housed in more modest surroundings. But from these small beginnings grew the large program that serves as a state and national model today.
The program began in 1999, after Stuart Perry returned from his Journey for Life walk from Americus to Chicago, where he was a guest at the annual meeting of the National Mental Health Association (now known as Mental Health America.) Perry traveled extensively around the country after this event and became a leading advocate for mental illness awareness.
During his travels, Perry realized that he missed his family, including wife Pam and daughter Amanda, too much to continue on the road. He turned his attention from national advocacy efforts to the needs in his home county and southwest Georgia. Perry continued his consultation with Middle Flint Behavioral HealthCare, the area's comprehensive mental health, developmental disability, and addictive disease program. He also worked with the state Mental Health Association, Middle Flint, and others in the development of the first completely peer-run mental health treatment program in the state, and one of the few in the nation.
The pioneer program was first known as the Tom Perry Peer Center, named after founder Stuart Perry's father. The small building which housed the program was located on a tank site for the Perry Brothers Oil Company on the outskirts of Americus. The location on Highway 280 West (Plains Highway) served only five peers when it began.
Over the years, the program grew and went through changes in ownership and management. To provide more direct leadership of the program, Perry developed the non-profit organization which purchased the program and renamed it the Perry Wellness Center.
While the program always had a focus on the ability for individuals to recover from the challenges of mental illness, it developed a greater focus upon wellness and expanded its membership to include peers with substance abuse problems as well.
After the tornado of 2007, Perry Wellness Center relocated to its current location on Furlow Street. The site provided greater potential for expansion as well as a prime in-town location. Soon after the move, Perry began to act on his dream of having extensive gardens and a produce market at the center.
Today, Perry Wellness Center provides services to 64 peers from eight southwest Georgia counties. The bustling center provides daily therapeutic and support services, including group training and discussions, exercise and recreational activities, two meals per day, and job training in the academic classrooms. The thriving market, Rudy's Happy Patch, has become a reality, and park areas, greenhouses, and gardens dot the colorful and expansive campus. Visitors flock to the market, which serves as a strategic outreach of the program. Market patrons rub shoulders with helpful peer staff and volunteers, learning a lesson in the basic humanity of those affected by mental illness and related problems.
Perry sees even greater growth for the program and frequently receives requests for information from other peer centers around the country. By responding to such requests, he hopes that his national advocacy work continues, even as he continues to make a difference in the area he calls home.