Last week, several Perry Wellness Center staff and peers participated in RESPECT Institute of Georgia training. The statewide training is designed to help participants learn to tell their personal stories of mental illness and/or substance abuse and their recovery.
A courageous trio of individuals shared their own stories to a roomful of staff, peers, and community members, including representation from local law enforcement, civic groups, and other organizations. Special guest and former first lady Rosalynn Carter shared her belief in the project and in the work of Perry Wellness Center.
After a welcome from PWC founder and CEO Stuart Perry, RESPECT Institute of Georgia founder Joel Slack opened his remarks with a quote from the late poet Maya Angelou: "There is no greater agony than to carry an untold story." By sharing their stories with the public, individuals are able to make greater sense of their personal histories, educate the public, and reduce stigma by providing a face and a voice to the struggle with mental illness. As Joel Slack explained, sharing life stories gives listeners "a glimpse of the humanity of the person."
Speaking at last week's graduation ceremony were two peer specialists, Sarah T. and Dylan K., and peer Sherry R. Each individual told personal stories that elicited tears, head nods, and standing ovations from the rapt audience. Sharing memories of abuse, depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and loss, each speaker also shared the life lessons they had learned as part of their recovery. The presentations clearly touched the hearts of listeners, as evidenced by the many embraces of previous strangers after the ceremony.
To close the ceremony, event organizer and staff member Lezlie Poole gave moving remarks that highlighted the importance of mental health advocacy, as she shared the story of a friend lost to suicide. (The text of her remarks will be featured on the website shortly.)
After the ceremony, refreshments were served. and attendees lingered for cake, conversation, and photos.
The RESPECT Institute of Georgia training was provided in partnership with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Slack Consulting, the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, and Mental Health America of Georgia.
Our thanks to all who helped make the day so meaningful to so many.
Pictured above are: top photo, left to right, Joel Slack, Rosalynn Carter, and Stuart Perry; middle photo, former first lady Rosalynn Carter; and bottom photo, left to right, Paul Degelmann, Linda Fuller Degelmann, and Charlene Hayes.