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Community heroes work behind the scenes

Back row: Connie Barnard, left, and Tom Wood; front row: Joe Messner and John Ruggeri. They were given awards at the recent NAMI Annual Gathering.


Mental illness touches most people at one time or another. The National Alliance on Mental Illness — with an array of programs — offers hope to people in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Whether it’s depression due to a life event, supporting a family member dealing with a chronic mental illness, providing crisis-intervention training to police officers, caring for families after the tragedy of suicide, or helping veterans and their families, NAMI is there. Their facility at 2525 Back Orrville Road is the hub for a variety of specialized activities.
Helen Walkerly, executive director, spoke of early days of NAMI. “From a handful of people who met monthly at the Counselling Center, the organization has grown to include many kinds of outreach. At our recent NAMI Annual Gathering, we had 130 people in attendance,” she said.
Walkerly gave awards to several unsung community heroes.
NAMI established the Ginger Handwerk Award in memory of an early volunteer who died from brain cancer in 2012. This year that award went to two volunteers who helped pull off the 2016 Expressions of Hope Art Event.
Connie Barnard and Tom Wood offer weekly art classes at the NAMI facility. Their art sale fundraiser included education about the way the arts can help people heal.
Walkerly said, “We couldn’t give it to one and not the other. Both are equally deserving.”
In recognizing their gifts, Walkerly mentioned the way Barnard nurtures and brings out the best in each individual in the class, developing a relationship with each artist she mentors.
For her part, Barnard said when she first agreed to help the group learn water color painting, she wanted to move away from working inside her church, First Presbyterian, to helping people in the community.
Because the original MOCA house was owned by the church, it seemed like a good place to start. In the end her work to bless others ended up blessing her instead.
“I look forward to it every Thursday,” she said about her painting classes. “We sit around the table painting, and at first they’re unsure. Then they get involved and forget about their pain for awhile. They encourage each other, and they turn out amazing things.”
Wood, also an artist, supplied the organization with a closet full of art supplies. His generosity began in 2013 when he first donated paint, brushes and paper. Later he supplied canvases. His compassionate, empathetic and patient spirit ignites a spark in people who had no idea they were gifted artists. Walkerly commented on Wood’s soft-spoken, gentle ways as he provides instruction and support to his class members.
Every year NAMI also recognizes a member of law enforcement who is part of the Crisis Intervention Team. These officers have completed 40 hours of training to learn the best way to work with a person who may be experiencing the symptoms of serious mental illness. This officer treats persons with mental illness with dignity and respect and uses de-escalation techniques to calm a situation and ensure safety.
John Ruggeri of the Wooster Police Department received the 2017 award. Since graduating from the program in 2016, Ruggeri has championed crisis-intervention training, encouraging others in law enforcement and the medical field to use it. Walkerly said he has handled a multitude of mental health calls and is consistently personal, caring, trustworthy and honest.
The one who nominated Ruggeri for the award said, “John is a true CIT believer, continually evaluating himself and asking for ideas and opinions to improve his interactions on calls involving mental health patients. He shows compassion and stands above peers in this area."
In his day job Joe Messner is a counselor at Anazao Community Partners in Millersburg, yet since 2009 Messner also assisted NAMI as a volunteer, serving in various ways. At the recent annual meeting, NAMI gave him their Community Service Award.
He’s volunteered in many ways, starting as a board member of the Mental Health Coalition (now MOCA and merged with NAMI) when it met at both the Slater Building and later at MOCA House.
He’s written several grants including one to help purchase a van. He’s assisted with fundraising, served as treasurer and facilitated a men’s group. In presenting the award, Walkerly described him as a “quiet voice of reason: kind, caring and compassionate to all.”
Messner helps facilitate the Family to Family program in Holmes County, where he works alongside a member of the plain community to help family members support those with serious mental illness.
In addition to presenting awards, the NAMI Annual Gathering elected new board members Mac Hawkins, Lynn Jones and Carrie Nettle. Dr. Penelope Frese addressed the group using the biblical image of “Water from the Rock” to describe her family’s experiences living with serious mental illness and working in education and recovery.
For more information about NAMI of Wayne and Holmes Counties and the services it provides, call 330-264-1590 or go to www.namiwayneholmes.org.

Published: September 8, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170909970