As the message of Perry Wellness Center continues to increase locally, the program is once again turning its attention to its national advocacy mission. Toward that end, plans are underway to re-release the book, “Journey for Life.”
Written in 2000 by the late mental health advocate and author Rudy Hayes, “Journey for Life” commemorates the 1,000-mile walk of Stuart Perry from Americus, Georgia to Chicago, Illinois. His goal was to present a petition at a convention of the American Medical Association, calling for increased screening for depression. With a foreword by former first lady Rosalynn Carter, the firsthand account is filled with anecdotes about the journey, including stories of people and organizations met along the way. Accompanied by Rudy Hayes and wife Charlene, Stuart not only wore out several pairs of walking shoes on his journey, but spread the message of mental illness recovery along every mile he walked.
From that advocacy walk, Stuart’s own journey continued, as he became a foremost national advocate for mental health, speaking to organizations around the country. As noted in the foreword to “Journey for Life,” his own story was often compared to that of the mythical Phoenix, which rose from its ashes to begin a new, triumphant life. In Stuart’s case, his emergence followed four years of a devastating clinical depression. He traced his downward spiral to the suicide of his father. A successful Georgia businessman who also suffered from depression, Stuart’s father died in his then 21-year-old son’s presence.
At the same time, Rudy Hayes was following his own path. The longtime editor of the Americus Times-Recorder was an active participant in civic and church activities, but he was also a mental health consumer with a history of depression. In the late 1990s, Rudy and Stuart crossed paths and began a friendship and shared mission which transformed both their lives. Before long, the two were working together in the local mental health system as mental health advocates, and their activities were instrumental in the creation of the Journey for Life project.
Through Journey for Life, Stuart Perry became a symbol of hope for the millions of Americans who suffer from depression and other mental disorders. His path to this important role makes an inspiring story, offered from the sympathetic and often humorous perspective of a close friend and colleague.
“Journey for Life was the early beginning of my continuing effort to make people more aware of mental illness,” Stuart recalls. That effort has continued at the local level through the wellness and recovery center he founded and manages today.
“At Perry Wellness Center, our goal is to help individuals who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse,” Stuart notes. “With the vast increase of information on social media and the internet, the story of Perry Wellness Center is quickly spreading. I want to provide former and new mental health advocates a copy of the book that Rudy Hayes and I traveled to Chicago to complete, in words and pictures.” He smiles as he recalls the adventure: “This trip with Rudy was memorable and sharing.”
Now he is ready to share the journey with a new generation of readers. “Journey for Life” is available for only $15 and may be purchased at Rudy’s Happy Patch Market. To reserve copies or request a personalized copy signed by Stuart, individuals can call Perry Wellness Center at 229-924-2430.
In the photo above, Stuart Perry and Charlene Hayes get ready to distribute copies of “Journey for Life” in the lobby of Perry Wellness Center, where the widow of the late Rudy Hayes now works as a registered nurse.