MHA’s Annual Dinner Recognizes Volunteers and Advocates
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125 Gathered at Heritage Hall to mark the Agency’s 61 years of service to Licking County.
In its continuing efforts to achieve victory over mental illness, Mental Health America of Licking County (MHALC) paused last Thursday evening to celebrate. Since 1953, MHA has worked to educate the public about mental health conditions and to advocate for those who experience mental illness and their families.
After an invocation by Reverend Deb Dingus, beverages and salads were served by a team of “celebrity servers” featuring local leaders and elected officials. Celebrity servers included Deb Dingus of United Way, Kay Spergel of Mental Health and Recovery for Licking and Knox County, Dr. Nelson McCray from the Licking County Educational Service Center, Dr. Lew Mollica of Our Futures of Licking County, Barbara Quackenbush of Newark City Schools, Licking County Judge Duke Frost, Connie Hawk of the Licking County Foundation, Doug Pricer of WCLT Radio, and Mike Shearer of Newark Advocate Media.
The official business of the Agency was conducted by Board of Trustees President Dan Bybee, who also presented the official audit. The trustees elected a new slate of officers for the coming year, including Mr. Dave Wenger as President, Ms. Maureen Havens as 1st Vice President, Mr. David Hardy as 2nd Vice President, Mr. Mareion Royster as Board Treasurer and Mr. Dan Bybee as Immediate Past President. Since Mr. Warren Weber is leaving the Board after 21 years of service, he was presented a gift and a big thank you.
With the business out of the way, attention turned to the presentation of awards recognizing the accomplishments of volunteers and members of Agency programs and persons in the community who help to promote good mental health.
MHA’s YES Program (Youth Engaged in Service) recognized Shawn Dunlap and Tabby Shorey as model students and prime examples of the program’s goals for its members.
Donna Gibson, MHA’s Parent Support and Bridges Out of Poverty Coordinator, announced her program’s participant of the year award to James Ball. James is a graduate of the Getting Ahead program and has a great story of steady growth and accomplishment. He is known by all to be a very kind and caring individual who never expects recognition in return.
Shari Johnston, Coordinator of the Agency’s Compeer program, presented the Henry Mardis Compeer Member of the Year award to Robert Haden George, who has distinguished himself among his many outstanding peers with his enthusiasm for Compeer, his gentleness and kindness to others and his commitment to wellness recovery.
Justina Wade, Suicide Prevention Coordinator, presented the first Suicide Prevention award to Veronica Nott who lost her sister to suicide over a year ago. Veronica was a driving force in adding a suicide prevention walk to the annual candlelight vigil along with Tarsha Raker-Henry and Lauren Heath who both lost loved ones to suicide. Veronica also sponsored t-shirts for walkers to wear at this year’s event.
MHA’s Executive Director, Penny Sitler, presented three awards at the annual meeting. First, the Agency’s Physician of the Year was award to Dr. Craig Cairns. Dr. Cairns was recognized for his compassion and caring for persons who experience mental health conditions. Next, the Marion S. Wells Mental Health Award, given for outstanding contributions to the cause of mental health in Licking County was given by Ms. Sitler to Mental Health and Recovery for Licking and Knox Counties for bringing Mental Health First Aid to this community. This program is an eight hour training to recognize signs of mental illness and teaches how to get help for a person who may be showing signs of crisis. The last award presented by Penny Sitler was the Agency’s Mental Health Professional of the Year award which was awarded to Tim Gano, Vice President of Development and Public Relations atBehavioral Healthcare Partners of Central Ohio. Tim is a very caring mental health professional who always has a smile and kind word for those he comes in contact with.
Pam Roberts, Associate Director, presented the Agency’s Volunteer of the Year Award to Brian DeGarmo, who generously gives of his time, on an almost daily basis, to Mental Health America. Brian lives with a traumatic brain injury from a car accident in 1981, but has an excellent attitude about life and works very hard at any task given to him.
Donna Gibson presented Robert Hicks the Agency’s Consumer of the Year award, which is for a member of the community who experiences mental illness, overcoming obstacles, including stigma, while striving to reach their full potential. Robert, who has authored three books, first came to MHA almost too shy to say a word to anyone. Robert experienced bullying and hardship his whole life. He has since come out of his shell, writes beautiful stories and poetry and has found employment with the help of Donna Gibson, as well as Emilie Coen, Shannon Johnston, and Rachel Woodruff from Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. Everyone is very proud of Robert, who received a standing ovation after reading an impactful essay about his struggles and journey.
Finally, two individuals were awarded the Paddy Kutz Community Mental Health Award, affectionately known as “The Paddy”. This award honors the accomplishments of individuals and organizations that best represent Ms. Kutz’s dedication and commitment to mental health education and advocacy, in the areas of education, business, and community. Scott Koebel, Newark High School Counselor, received the award for the Education category for always working to improve the lives of the students he comes in contact with. Scott works closely with numerous agencies in Licking County to bring quality programming such as suicide prevention, financial literacy and much more to the students he works with. The Community category award was given to Mary Kay Barickman. She was nominated for her more than 40 years working as a social worker, during which she always worked to better the mental health and lives of those around her in her community.
Many students and mental health consumers, who may not have been able to participate, were provided scholarships through the generous donations of the following individuals and companies: Mr. & Mrs. Joe Kennedy, Mr. & Mrs. Jeff Forman, Licking Memorial Health Systems, Newark Advocate Media, Newark City Schools, Park National Bank, and State Farm Insurance.
Mental Health America of Licking County, an affiliate of Mental Health America, is a partner agency of the United Way and the Community Mental Health & Recovery Board.