United Way of Hill County highlighted a success story at their annual awards luncheon: The Green Team, a program that puts people with mental illnesses to work in the community.
“I have (dealt with) schizophrenia for 30 years. The Green Team has given me confidence, sense of purpose and self-esteem. Thanks, ” Green Team member Wayne Small told the audience at the luncheon to a round of applause.
The program, in which peers who receive treatment and counseling at the Center for Mental Health in Havre provide snow removal and landscaping services, was started about a year ago.
Program Director Rachel Bianco, introduced Small and the other members of the team at the luncheon: Ronnie Anderson, Chad Ellingson, Nathan Schafer, Josh Dixon, Chris Burke, Robert LaValley and Bryan Lantz.
Bianco said the program is helping all involved.
She said the center helped her put her life back together when she was dealing with bipolar disorder, and then she was contacted to help build The Green Team.
“So, I helped put this team together, but the blessing is what they have given me, ” Bianco said. “They are wonderful people. They are hard-working; many have never worked before.
“I just feel really blessed, and we appreciate the community reaching out to us and hiring our team to do their yards, ” she added.
Bianco thanked United Way and the community for its support of the Center and programs like The Green Team.
“I have seen them grow and really become the team that they wanted to be, and it really wouldn’t be possible without your help getting behind programs like this, ” Bianco said.
Heidi Gibson, director of the Center For Mental Health’s funding foundation, said a key role of the center — and programs like The Green Team — is providing hope.
Gibson said that statistics show one in four Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime.
“One in 17 people will have a serious and disabling mental illness. That means it changes their lives so much, many times they can’t work, they have lost their family relationships and sometimes their housing, ” Gibson said. “We’re a place that … gives people hope, and that’s what we do. ”
She said a national push to remove the stigma from mental illness, Beautiful Minds, is a growing phenomenon. Many famous figures — Abe Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mike Wallace, Patty Duke, Virginia Woolf and Vincent van Gogh — dealt with mental illness, she said.
“These are people that have changed the very fabric of our culture, and they continue to give to us every single day, ” Gibson said. “When someone asks me why I do what I do, I always say it’s because we like to talk about the famous people, but, really, we’re here for the people that maybe aren’t famous yet. ”
The stigma associated with mental illness is changing, she said.
“There’s going to be a day when we can talk about mental illness like physical illness, ” Gibson said. “I see it on the horizon. We’re going to get there, because mental health is the very fabric of a healthy community. It has been said, without mental health there is no health. ”
She said part of the center’s job is to remove some mystery from mental illness. She said she thinks President John. F. Kennedy said it best when he said that, written in Chinese, the word “crisis” uses two characters: one meaning danger and the other opportunity.
“So, when the door closes, the window opens, and we spend probably most of our time talking about trying to find that window that has opened, ” Gibson said.
“In Hill County alone, we serve 584 people that, for many times, it’s a very dark day, and, at the end of the day, we need to figure out where those windows are opening, ” she said. “And, for them, The Green Team has been a very big window opening. ”
The Green Team can be contacted at 399-6350.