College students are returning to campus. Soon local schools will open. While we have seen a steady stream of tourists throughout Williamsburg this summer, we cannot know about the behavior of SARS-COV-2 (and Covid-19), nor the decision making of associated governments and businesses as we enter fall.
We had assumed this. Decided to prepare a hybrid event for both an in-person and online participation. Hope Family Village retained Audiocraft to both stream and video record the event. Zoom is our platform. We will make sessions available online for those unable to attend. (Only the award ceremony may not be recorded.)
Our conference theme is: “It’s all about the community.” If you have read my earlier blog posts, you know that Hope Family Village is all about creating community. Mental health care comes down to each community in America. Our families, our neighbors, our people.
Fairweather Lodges are integral to their neighborhoods and their communities. George Fairweather himself felt very strongly that the peers who lived in lodges should have a place to live autonomously, have opportunities to work and volunteer, have rights, and be free to participate in society as citizens.
Our agenda offers a blend of contributions being made to our communities and society. I will be posting further about each session, the panel members, and speakers up until the the conference. We hope you are able to participate. (To register got here and scroll down.)
37TH ANNUAL FAIRWEATHER LODGE CONFERENCE
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE COMMUNITY
BEST WESTERN HOTEL (HISTORIC),
351 York Street,
WILLIAMSBURG, VA 23185
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Registration and Evening Reception
3:30 – 6 PM
Participants Register at the Hotel
6:30 PM -8 PM
Reception at The Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge
Hosted by Hope Family Village, Our Lodge Member Families, and others.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
7:30 – 8:45 Buffet Breakfast
Welcome, Conference Opening
Speaker: Christina Westenberger, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
The Story of the Eastern State Hospital: Mental Health Care in the 18th Century
9 am – 10:15 am
Workshop:Creating Community to Address Mental Health Care
Moderator, Graham Henshaw, Executive Director, W&M Center for Entrepreneurship
Panel Members:Directors from Hope Family Village
10:30 am – 11:45 am
Workshop:Fairweather Lodge: A Short Course; Followed by Panel Session
Moderator: John Trepp, CCL Chairman Emeritus, The Coalition for Community Living
Panel Members: Ashley Trepp, Tasks Unlimited, Brendan Bayer, Former Lodge Member Bill McHenry, CCL Chair, Lodge Coordinator New Visions, Lodge Members, Others
12:00 pm – 1:30 pmAWARDS BANQUET
Award Ceremony, Master of Ceremonies, John Trepp
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Workshop: Establishing a Trauma Informed Community Network
Moderator: Marsha Obremski, Colonial Behavioral Health
Panel Members: Rebecca Vinroot, Director James City County Social Services; Carla Javier, Director of Children’s Services at CDR; Fred Liggin, Founder and President of 3e Restoration, Joe Jackson, Director of the 9th District Juvenile Court Services Unit and Sheri Newcome, York County Dept Director of Community Services.
The 37th Annual Fairweather Lodge Conference and Meeting of the Coalition for Community Living (CCL) will be held in Williamsburg Virginia this year. The conference, hosted by Hope Family Village, begins September 15th with registration and a reception at the Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge, the first Fairweather Lodge in Virginia. A great networking opportunity. You will meet lodge members, their families, and our neighbors. The conference will also have an online option. To register, go here.
The conference theme is: It’s about the community. On September 16th, we will have a very full day. It will begin with breakfast followed by a presentation by Christina Westenberger, Manager of Gallery Learning for Colonial Wiliamsburg Foundation. She will tell the story of mental health care in the 18th century. How did the Williamsburg community provide care to people in need? What can the past tell us about care today and in the future. How do Fairweather Lodge and ideas like Hope Family Village factor in the discussion.
Many might not know that Williamsburg is home to the oldest mental health institution in North America. The recently upgraded Art Museum is in the building of the original hospital. Time will be tight, but a tour is possible.
CCL Board members held their mid-year meetings in Wiliamsburg in 2015 and again in 2017. Offered to the Williamsburg community members was a short course and panel discussion about Fairweather Lodge. Moderated by CCL’s John Trepp, participants learned everything they wanted to know about Fairweather Lodge in a workshop. The conference will once again feature this popular session, along with experiences and perspectives of the fledgling Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge.
Hope Family Village: Our vision was to create a community-centric collaborative, offering acceptance, housing, and sustainable support for people with mental health conditions and their families. Twenty-five acres has been set aside, near Eastern State Hospital, to develop a co-housing project to fulfill this vision. What did we really have in mind, how did it evolve, where does it stand today?
At noon, John Trepp will be the Master of Ceremonies for the Awards Banquet. A conference favorite, we honor all the nominees for these coveted awards and celebrate George Fairweather’s innovation. It’s a heartwarming ceremony. And, we will be eating great Mexican food.
One of the hottest topics in the country is Trauma Informed Care. What is it and what is involved? Colonial Behavioral Health (CBH), Williamsburg’s behavioral health agency will be moderating a statewide panel discussion on Establishing a Trauma Informed Community Network.
Closing the day, we are delighted to present Xavier Amador, Phd. Author of the book, I am not sick, I don’t need help, who teaches the LEAP Method. He will appear remotely. LEAP and Fairweather Lodge are both evidence-based approaches designed to enable people serious mental illness to flourish. He teaches people how to improve their relationships. A powerful speaker and clinical psychologist, Dr. Amador is an experienced caregiver. We invited him to offer a perspective that might help us in operating lodges and developing stronger communities in mental health care.
On Friday, following a buffet breakfast, we will have two workshops. For the past year, the Outcomes Committee has been re-examining how lodge performance is measured and will discuss improvements in the methods. You won’t want to miss this session.
CBH operates a comprehensive emergency services program. Yes, we are a small community. But, we have one of the highest concentrations of CIT-trained officers in the state. You will learn about our CITAC program. One of our Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge members will speak about his work as a peer support specialist there.
Before noon, we will conduct a conference summation, which for our community will be involve identifying our next steps and for CCL will conclude with board business.
Next Saturday (May 22), I will be participating on a panel at the Women’s League of Voters Virginia Convention. Senator Monty Mason will be one of the panelists.
Monty attended an event NAMI Williamsburg hosted in 2015. The Coalition for Community Living had there mid-year board meeting and offered to give our community a short course on Fairweather Lodge. The Virginia Gazette wrote this piece.
Back then, I was harboring the notion that we could persuade organizations to implement this very successful “housing” program. We invited both state and local mental health organizations to join us. A number of caregivers of loved ones living with a serious mental illness.
Our persuasive ability failed. So, two years later we founded Hope Family Village and entertained the possibility that we could create a similar program, except not just one house, but a neighborhood that would embrace the principles and practices of Fairweather Lodge.
Building a brand new neighborhood is difficult. You need people prepared to leave their homes and financially commit to something novel. You need land. You need an architect, developer, financing. Sounds almost impossible, doesn’t it? Consider that you add $34,000, at least, to today’s cost of construction of the average home.
Neighborhood projects (25 -30 units) similar to ours in architecture can take 4 – 10 years to realize. You have to be patient. Very patient. And, persistent.
What do you do in the meantime? In our blog pages here, you will find we started a Fairweather Lodge Program. First, it was virtual. Then, we rented a home. Ours was the first Fairweather Lodge in Virginia.
What then is the future of behavioral health in Virginia?
I can only speak to the grassroots level. Serious mental illness. We address people living with mental illness who are medication compliant; ready to rejoin society, working and volunteering; and want to live together in a interdependent and mutually supportive way, in a house in a neighborhood.
We figured our how to do that. With a lot of help. A generous donor. A generous landlady. Committed founding lodge members. A lodge coordinator willing to donate his services to coaching the group.
In July, the lodge will have been in operation for two years. Six years out from when my fellow panel member joined our first session introducing Fairweather Lodge to Williamsburg.
For me the future is community. In our case, the Williamsburg community. A geographically small community that enables us to connect and accomplish very easily.
From my friend Father Micheal Pacella, and also familiar to our new board member Shannon Woloszynowski of House of Mercy, I recently learned another term for creating community.
In Catholic faith subsidiarity means: “… As far as possible, those closest to a problem should deal with that need or problem. The idea is that each person should have the opportunity to act personally as a sacrament of God’s goodness and provision to the world and so be able to choose personally to cooperate actively with the grace of God in order to be the grace to others.”
While I am not Catholic, shouldn’t we, as ordinary citizens, “insist that people closest to the problem should be the ones to fill the need or solve the problem.” ( Shear, Mark p., A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching. The Church’s Best Kept Secret, p. 80.)
Mother Teresa and her organization for all their accomplishments managed to honor their beliefs but serve all people, regardless of faith or non-faith. Diseased (leprosy, in particular) or not. Yet, even then, she describes her work as but a drop in an ocean.
A glimpse of my contribution to the panel is … the future of behavorial health care rests with local community. Those closest to the need and the problem.
You have followed our vision. A 25 acre-25 family innovation in community-centric mental health care, at an iconic site, for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
This month, we received word that a developer would be making an offer on 300 acres (est.) of Eastern State property (neighboring Eastern State Hospital and New Town) to the State General Services Department that includes Hope Family Village. A process will begin.
For the past three years, we have been following and participating with tmany stakeholders (James City County, General Services, Real Estate Department (their brokers), Colonial Behavioral Health, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and our state legislators. We have been visible in the Greater Williamsburg/James City Community, giving presentations.
We now find ourselves on the precipice of the next bold steps where dreams and destiny meet.
Shortly before receiving this news, we distributed our inaugural newsletter that will be one of our instruments toward attracting both equity members, and members, in Hope Family Village, the community. Along with our nonprofit, the equity members, the future residents, will be the actual co-community designers and co-developers. In expectation, we joined the Cohousing Community Launch Program, our project being an adaptation of cohousing.
In the next several months, we will be making more announcements about the project and schedule. Director Lisa Thomas heads our Village Team and has been active with her committee members concerning rendering an early community conceptual design, preliminary mapping work, and legal support.
Since our origin in 2017, we credit our board, and several key outside advisors (co-founders, donors, two W&M Business School Teams, NAMI Williamsburg and NAMI Mid-Tidewater), for figuring out the short steps to take toward designing and creating a neighborhood that would serve caregivers and their loved ones living with a diagnosed serious mental illness.
The smallest unit? One new family, four unrelated individuals, diagnosed with serious mental illness, living successfully together living in a regular neighborhood. Could we do it? What would we discover?
Could we identify and recruit four unrelated individuals who could live together, get along, support one another, take care of a house, and enjoy a better life?
Yes, we could.
After knowing and working with two of these gentlemen, as a lay person, no degree in social work, psychology, or psychiatry, for 5 – 7 years, and the families of all four, as a coach, I have learned about humanity. What it takes to live together. A very simple idea: You build your system together.
Through the Coalition for Community Living, we have learned about the principles and practices of operating a Fairweather Lodge. A model developed in 1963.
Even before we occupied a house, the members prepared a list of house rules and voted on them. They have held weekly meetings. Stayed current on rent. Filed quarterly outcomes reports (on 12 measures) with The Coalition for Community Living. Secured work. Volunteered in the community. On their daily walks, have met 15 neighbors. Experienced no hospitalizations.
What have we learned from operating this single home?
Understanding and acceptance are the key. Next, you mutually support one another. Recently, Steve had a medical test performed. He needed a ride and someone to wait for him. Scott was there.
Not everything goes well. It’s nice to have someone to commiserate with. Tell you it will be okay.
Everyone must pitch in to keep a house in order and clean, whether it’s leaving the kitchen clean as you found it, taking out the garbage, emptying the refrigerator of stale food, cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming the floors, taking care of the lawn (mowing, leaf blowing, edging), and changing out air filters.
Each week the lodge members review the status of their medication compliance and medical appointments. They keep each other both honest and well.
Caregivers. Members need the support of their caregivers toward becoming independent. That could be financial or emotional support. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? The lodge coordinator is a guide, not a parent. Family play an important role in being there for their loved ones. And, their loved loved ones often help them. The goal is to help the members become independent, while realizing the a lodge is about interdependence. In a real sense, the lodge is a new, created family. A microcosm of a neighborhood when you include family caregivers and nearby neighbors.
Families and neighborhoods work because we help each other.
As we consider next steps toward the village environment, we will need this same connection of families. A commitment to each other, in the same way the lodge members commit to each other. When we look at our society we see a society that is connectable by devices, but not necessarily communicating and functioning together. The brilliance of cohousing is that it creates that kind of human connection we remember when growing up in a neighborhood as kids.
When we started the lodge, a virtual lodge, the members were recruiting prospects. They began working together, sharing experiences about their weeks, goals that they hope to fulfill, and their aims for the next week. Over breakfast, we had a one-hour meeting. Weekly we did this. We built ties to one another. We backed each other up and that included me, the lodge coordinator.
Over time, we saw progress. Yes, it took a while. To find the right job. To find the house. To find the other members. We have inched our way into a self-sufficient life that the members will tell you is fun. It has not always been easy.
So, what are we looking for. Members of our community who can accept one another, and all the challenges brought with mental illness, and will pitch in to support one another.
Pre-Covid, we created environments where everyone was together, being together, breaking bread at a restaurant.
We worked with a team of W&M graduate and undergraduate business students, who organized a grand event. We cooked a meal together, played corn hole, and had a workshop as if caregivers and those with a diagnosis were living and sharing together in a Common House. A heart warming event that revealed what was possible.
Novel ideas take time to evolve and improve. They require testing and new inputs. This could be the season for a big next step. I thank all of you who helped us get started, have stuck with us. We will prevail.
We wish to congratulate Sandy on her role as President of the Board of NAMI Virginia. This is a mature organization of 9 staff members and a new Executive Director. As a member of the Executive Committee and as Board VP, Sandy led critical staff changes in 2019, in taking on a new role as President of NAMI Virginia and playing numerous roles in the mental health arena, resigned as a board member this past year.
The following is my tribute to Sandy, which served as input into a Board Resolution shared with Sandy and her husband Court at our Annual Meeting.
Sandy has been faithful to the concept and realization of Hope Family Village from the beginning of our meeting. Even in resigning for the board, she has believed our project will happen at Eastern State. She kept us moving forward by always pushing for the next thing … consideration of a piece of property, becoming included in mental health conferences, and making her voice heard on our actions and direction as an organization. You need that kind of participation on a board. That will be missed.
In June 2015, at the NAMI Virginia Conference (Richmond, VA), a random encounter with Courtney Mottesheard led a connection with Sandy and 3-hour share session on our mutual concerns and interests, as caregivers, in creating permanent housing and support for those living with a serious mental illness, including our two sons.
Over the course of 9 months (June 2015 – February 2016), Sandy would write or call me about the next step. Urge me to do something. At the time, I did not know what to do beyond bugging Colonial Behavioral Health and our state legislators to take action. We had already introduced NAMI, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), Colonial Behavioral Health (CBH), NAMI Virginia and our families to Fairweather Lodge (September 2015 – March 2016). With an expectation for the future, I joined Coalition for Community Living (CCL) as an individual member and began attending monthly lodge coordinator calls. Was very involved with our NAMI, teaching the Family to Family Course.
Finally, Sandy, out of frustration, proposed a date and requested I prepare a PSA. I did not know what this was. A Public Service Announcement (PSA) that she would advertise me as a speaker at the Gloucester Library. I had thought 20 minutes of talking and the balance of 2 hours on brainstorming. She said that that would never work. No one attending, she said, would know about Fairweather Lodge or another concept I was mulling over called Cohousing. She “persuaded” me to talk for an hour, then conduct a brainstorming session.
At this session, the group (24 people), which included housing officials, the head of the Community Services Board for Northern Neck, and NAMI caregivers and peers, participate in a creative thinking, guided exercise that resulted in the concept for Hope Family Village which would serve both caregivers and people living with a mental illness in the same designed neighborhood. We accepted that no one would be taking care of us. We would have to take the action.
In every respect, Sandy was the prime mover. I was the vision guy and could work with a group. But, she organized and communicated with the attendees.
Together we identified 7 families, from our two NAMI Affiliates, who were motivated to talk about creating a cohousing village. We met at the St. Stephens Lutheran Church June 2016. Lee Griffin was one. Jerry Galloway another. They loved the idea, but could not see leaving their homes. Remaining were Sandy and Court, me, Carmen, Allen, and one other Gloucester family.
Everyone was busy with NAMI stuff. (Sandy was facilitating support groups, teaching NAMI’s Family to Family Course in her NAMI Mid-Tidewater Affiliate, and she was also President. She was a NAMI State Trainer of NAMI Programs.) So we decided to start having dinners like cohousing meals. Keeping us together while we thought about how to make our vision happen. We made a list of people to invite. Our first list. (They were from all over the state.) About that same time, Tom Rideout and I decided to contact Mason (August 2016) to do some independent study work. Flesh out the concept. I reached out to Sandy to tell her about the possible W&M project and wrote her:
“You got all of us going. I needed the Gloucester library kickstart. I want to tell you more about this week before I write everyone.”
Sandy joined our Pizza Event on this first MBA study and she would followup and participate in the second W&M study as well. All the while, we kept having monthly family dinners. Our preferred placed was in Gloucester: Nick’s Spaghetti and Steak House. Here our group came up with name for the organization that the MBA students were recommending we create as well as an initial vision statement, which we refined at planning group meetings in the business school on Saturdays. Sandy was a co-founder of Hope Family Village, but did not immediately join our board. As you recall, I knew she was busy with many NAMI and other activities and I wanted to keep it very simple at the start. I thought it terms of 5 people. But Sandy was persistent and wanted to be on our board. She became our 6th member on February 3, 2018.
Sandy participated in both W&M studies and helped organize all the dinners, which moved to Jimmy’s when she and Court moved to Lanexa. She would prompt me each month to write an update on our project, the nonprofit, Fairweather Lodge, and Eastern State. All the while, Sandy would be on the look out for property that would be suitable for Hope Family Village. She found a number of attractive parcels.
We stayed focussed on Eastern State, as a logical place for a pilot project. We were successful in getting a budget amendment for the set aside of property for Hope Family Village at Eastern State. The wording was odd and referred to DBHDS. I learned that Myra Signer, former Executive Director of NAMI VA, had become second in command at the Department. I asked Sandy to arrange a coffee with Myra, who she was good friends with, in Richmond. It was a very pleasant drive up and back March 2019. Myra congratulated us on being persistent all the way back to the days we would invite NAMI VA to learn about Fairweather Lodge. She followed up with Myra to create contacts inside DBDHS to help us make the project happen.
I remember the drive because it was the highlight of our mutual accomplishment, stemming back to our first meeting at the NAMI Virginia Conference almost four years earlier. It had been a long time. You could call it a celebration at having arrived – finally a connection to DBDHS and some respect for our persistence.
Sandy was able to secure two NAMI VA presentations for us. The first (June 2018) was difficult because the time kept being shortened. She had to fight for us 40 minutes.
The NAMI VA Conference in 2019 was the first in several years. Sandy, once again, used her board influence to get us on the agenda. Finally, before Covid-19 happened, NAMI families from across the state were learning about us. They were amazed and inspired by what Hope Family Village had accomplished. We added to our list of interested families.
Most will call 2020 the year to forget. Not in our case. Let me tell you about some of our people.
Yes, we lost two souls. Unforgettable people. People who we are glad we all knew. Andrea Bond, a peer and Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge member, and Betty Anne Griffin, a caregiver, NAMI Williamsburg family support group member, and vital family donor to Hope Family Village. My tribute to Andrea appears here.
Earlier in December, I learned that we had lost another dear friend of Hope Family Village. Betty Anne Griffin. She was 83.
Like Andrea, Betty Anne radiated light. Her hug before group was memorable. She conversed with people with ease. Curious, inquisitive, compassionate, thoughtful. Positive. She was fuel for support group. I’d look forward to seeing her on Tuesday nights. In our group, we treated each other like we wanted to be treated. Every Tuesday night. And, we departed each others’ company with hope.
You can’t explain the exact origin of ideas. They are an amalgamation. But, they all begin with a spark. Betty Anne was that spark.
One night, seated by each other, I was lamenting the countless obstacles confronting our loved ones: Safe housing, paying work, friends, societal acceptance, learning, continuous care. When I finally stopped, Betty Anne looked me straight in the eye and interjected, “Couldn’t we all just get together and buy a house them?” A former early childhood educator, she expressed herself with unmistakeable innocence. Here we all were dealing with turbulence. Frustration that the state and mental health system was not helping us to help our loved ones, so that we could live our lives, too. And, Betty Anne’s answer was, Let’s buy a house.
The moment she said it, We all laughed, as we are prone to do in support group. That’s it! A home filled with people who would understand one another’s experience. Who grow to accept and support one another in a world that seemingly would or could not. What happens when we find ourselves under attack or great stress? We seek refuge. A safe place with safe people. Predictable circumstances. From that place, we find conviction. Strength. Purpose. A reason to be.
All kinds of things motivate us. Events, beliefs, emotions, people, ambitions, goals, deadlines. Some combination. A sequence. All come together around one intangible. Timing. Without a doubt, Covid-19, our society’s reaction to it, influenced a certain flow to Hope Family Village’s development. As we look at 2020 and think ahead, perspective helps.
Betty Anne’s utterance (Winter, 2014) I would think about for some months. NAMI’s Monica Larkin would lament about the Eastern State surplus property for sale that should be used for housing for our loved ones. A chance encounter with my W&M friend, Duncan Charlton, that summer, (Summer 2014 ) who told me about designing and living in a cohousing community in Texas and that he was a Lodge Coordinator for something called Fairweather Lodge. You could call it a Big Bang.
By March of 2015, I met Betty Anne’s husband, Lee, at a Fairweather Lodge 2-hour panel discussion. All about our loved ones living in a home, together. Note, not a house, but a home. A program. A way of life. Driven by people living with serious mental illness, lightly coached. All begun with a spark. Betty Anne Griffin. She lives with us as an inspiration.
Without Lee and Betty Anne Griffin’s belief and financial support, we would not have accomplished all that we have. Many others, no less significant, have supported us at key times in our evolution. But, the Griffin’s investment in us, since we formed the nonprofit, 501(c) corporation, Hope Family Village in late 2017, has led to results that can be traced back to Betty Anne’s spark.
It has been a long time since I have posted. Like many of you, families and caregivers, life changed in mid-March 2020.
We had our last supper, so to speak, of Hope Family Village families at Jimmy’s in March. Jerry and Joy, one of our founding families, were bravely there. They are in their mid- to late 80s. They have always encouraged me. Been very active in NAMI Williamsburg, operating exhibits for both Hope Family Village and NAMI.
For the past six years, we have worked hard to secure land for a 25-family project that sought real care. A community of acceptance on property originally intended for that purpose. Through two VA State Governors, acreage has been identified on the Eastern State surplus property specifically for Hope Family Village Corporation. No small achievement, 25 acres have been promised for a $1 lease arrangement.
For over two years, we have patiently and consistently worked with the Office of General Services and James City County to address a need that can only grow in our country. Recently, we selected legal counsel to help us work through details to take a budgetary commitment and turn it into something tangible.
Some things are destiny. Even destiny requires persistence.
To carry on with our mission, we have been generously supported by The Griffin Family, Williamsburg Community Foundation, Exelon Corporation, and many other smaller donors. We are very judicious with our funds and proud of that. Everything we do is with volunteers. Yet, our funds go to real projects that change lives. Three guys, seeking a fourth, live in a permanent home. They are connected and receive my support as their coach through life. And, I am a regular Dad, the caregiver of a son living with a serious mental illness.
Andrea’s passing was very tough on me. She was an early member of the Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge. I was her lodge coordinator. She might have been an early victim of Covid; it is hard to know. Scott, Steve, Ben and me, you see us pictured above, have carried on. They decided to begin walking the neighborhood when everyone else was told to shudder in place. We had our meetings on Zoom, for my protection, as a senior for several months, but started an outdoor activity. No one has contracted the virus.
Steve and I have walked two miles a day almost every day since. We now know 12 families, who we formerly did not know, in our 50 home neighborhood. And, they know us. Some join us on occasion. We have begun talking about holding a Covid-safe block party for this Fall.
Establishing the first Fairweather Lodge in Virginia, a regular home for people living with a serious mental illness, living in a regular neighborhood, was a tangible project. And, the lodge passed its first full year of operation in July. To celebrate, we went golfing at Revolution Golf.
The guys have done fantastic work. I am proud of hem. They have filed all of their Quarterly Outcomes Reports to the Coalition for Community Living (zero hospitalizations); put out four newsletters; kept the house up; shared weekly Saturday morning breakfasts; volunteered in the community; and more. They are a family. A good neighbor.
What the lodge exemplifies is Hope Family Village. Yes, we want to build something new and important in our community. Something that addresses our loved ones and their 8.4 million caregivers. And, maybe many USA families are finding out that self-isolation, losing paying work, not connecting with friends and families, is hazardous to your mental and physical health. This is the Covid World. Look at all that has happened. It’s unbelievable.
As Hope Family Village, Fairweather Lodge, what we demonstrate is that there is light. There is hope. And, we do it right now, in our own neighborhood. And, there is no more cost-effective approach to wellness.
In real life we see and know angels. Andrea (an-Drey’-ya), as she preferred to be called, was such an angel. For those of us who knew her, we experienced her bright light.
Corey, Andrea, and Courtney, Hope Family Village Dinner,Jimmy’s, December 13, 2018Photo: Dave Ress, Daily Press
Two qualities distinguish angels. They exhibit an uncommon kindness and thoughtfulness that is beyond everyday humanity. And, they are mischeviously fun.
While I knew Andrea but three years, from the moment I met her, from the podium of giving a speech on Fairweather Lodge and Hope Family Village to NAMI Hampton Roads/Newport News, no one could have forecast our life together.
Our meeting began with this concluding remark :”I am very excited to start a Fairweather Lodge (a home in a neighborhood, of mutual support and interdependence, for people living serious mental illness) in Virginia. Anywhere in Virginia. Maybe here in Newport News. All we need is a house.”
At the time, three of us were meeting in a place called The Coffee House (Williamsburg). Every Saturday morning at 8 AM. We operated what we called a “Virtual Lodge.” We’d have coffee. Discuss our respective weeks: The good, the bad, the indifferent. Discuss life goals, including seeking employment. Plans for the upcoming week. My role: Part coach, part undiagnosed participant. Our meetings would last no more than one hour.
Immediately after my podium request, a woman raised her hand and said in a soft but confident voice, “I have a house.” And so, we began.
Average people cannot comprehend serious mental illness. What it is. How it changes life. Dreams. Routine. They also miss the beauty and creativity that conjoins the mystery. I, too, was uneducated. Until it was personal and good fortune came my way. Andrea, and others, who lived with a diagnosis, patiently painted a picture of a hidden world.
Andrea shared her NAMI Peer-to-Peer Course Manual with me. She wanted me to understand peers. Also, help me to understand my son, who she would always ask about. She’d make suggestions for creating engagement. The next time she saw me, She’d ask the result and provide further feedback.
She understood what it was like to be a caregiver. She took care of her mother for some years, in their home, as she lived with Alzheimer’s disease until she died. Andrea was both caregiver and peer. In fact, only two weeks ago, she told me that her psychiatrist had asked Andrea to move in with her Mom, a dementia sufferer, to live there and care for her. She speculated that her son, Nathan, who she lived with in the same house she grew up in, might do the same for her.
Naturally thoughtful, Andrea would honor my birthday. Every holiday event. With a card. A small gift. Accompanied by an enveloping, mandatory hug. If you did not hug, she would fake a punch, as if a boxer. Before her illness, she had trained in marshal arts and he informed me that she did have skills to use in case I had to be brought in line. Just kidding, she’d giggle.
Her most recent gifts. A picture frame that featured golf balls and tees. A driver from the 1960s. A leather handkerchief dispenser for my car visor. She thought it looked cool. I will now be ready for Cornovirus.
Since Andrea’s passing, this tribute has come deliberately. Grief interrupts us. Another ingredient needed – attending her funeral service in Portsmouth with a fellow Coffee House lodge member. There, we learned that we were not the only ones she loved. Her unconditional love clearly reciprocated.
Sitting in the pews were family members, churches, lifelong friends, and our community – NAMI, Fairweather Lodge, Hope Family Village. You could feel people stealing glances at one another from their pews, wondering who these strangers were who had come on a Friday at 5 PM to a funeral service amidst rush hour traffic, in a most populated part of coastal Virginia, with few bridges and tunnels. A difficult journey. Some arriving just in time.
Charismatic leaders bear the gift that the people who they are communicating with are the only ones in their lives. These leaders appear to hang on one’s every word. Sincerity and authenticity hug them. Surprise, surprise. Andrea shared her life with others. Many friends. She made each feel unique and special, even the ones she had only known a month. Like her new church, the pastor for the service.
Two days before the service, a single cloud appeared in the sky on my sojourn around the 9-hole course where I play. Andrea would often call me on these jaunts. Through the magic of mobile phone technology and earbuds, we would talk as I played. She’d ask me to send her pictures of where a ball landed on the green. Urge me to make a hole-in-one. (I never have, nor been playing in a group that did.)
On this day, maybe she’d help me. Even better, I watched as this single cloud, alone in a sea of blue, morphed into the image of a snow angel, the kind we’d make as kids at the first snow. It disappeared before I could take a picture. And, I thought … Andrea. I now realized who she was. Could finally write.
Andrea was an angel in this plane and now in Heaven. As I have thought about her life throughout the week, Couldn’t our world do with more angels?
With her life, Andrea showed us that angels exist on earth. Their presence masked by current events, disagreements, traffic, electronics, judgement, the madness of civilization in a perpetual rush.
I never witnessed Andrea in a rush. She was calmly there or would let us know she was stuck in a tunnel on her many trips from Portsmouth to Williamsburg. Steve and I re-lived this potential on Friday’s drive.
Three years ago, when she first asked me if she could join our Coffee House meetings, I was nonplused and concerned. What time would she have to get out of bed to meet us?
Sometimes she would request I call her as the alarm clock. Other times she depended on Chewie, her dog to wake her up.
Andrea was a faithful participant in the Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge. We took our first lodge field trip to see the house she was proposing. Hers. She helped facilitate NAMI Williamsburg Peer Support Group meetings at 7 PM on Tuesday nights. She came to Hope Family Village dinners on Thursday nights.
She suggested, help plan, and participated in Fairweather Lodge events. Bowling, birthdays, dinners, NAMI Walks. It was her idea to celebrate Thanksgiving; she brought and cooked the dinner.
Among the wealthiest people on our planet, no one was more generous, thoughtful, kind and cheerful than Andrea. She is the model for humanity. (Note: I did not say she did not have opinions. She knew her mind.)
Not quite a year into knowing each other, she asked to visit with me at The Coffee House. Just the two of us. She had written her story on paper and wanted to share it with me. She told me, I cannot verbalize it, because I will wind up in the hospital.
We had coffee. She loved an orange drink they had. They sold it at a great price, she said. And it was good! Then, she handed me the paper and asked me to read it later and tell me what I thought. She forewarned me that she was not a good speller, owing to a learning disability.
I would start reading her story and have to stop. Weeks would go by and she would make inquiry. Show good natured disgust when I said, I am not done yet.
Some stories you wish you never knew. You see the story, not a person.
When I finally finished, I told her, I don’t know what to say but thank you. She responded with her characteristic, muffled, A-hm. We did not speak anymore than that, but she asked for it back because wanted to share it with her beloved psychiatrist. Who she once introduced me to at The Coffee House.
Not long after I returned her work, she began talking more openly about that part of her life. She triumphed through difficult times and dates of the year. Memories of tragic events. Reminded me when they were.
Never did she complain, seek sympathy. Never the victim. Again, we experience an angel. In large measure, maybe we know God through each other.
In our virtual lodge, as we developed our house rules and spoke about house philosophy, we realized that our pioneering members had faith in God as a common denominator. At our first diner together, it was Andrea who prevailed in saying the blessing. Surprise, surprise.
When we finally found a house, could see financially how to make it work, Andrea backed out. Up until this point, she was so excited. I was very discouraged. She had been such a prime mover.
Again, not until the service did it sink in that she had lived in the same community her entire life. She delivered papers here at 10. Her doctors were all there. (He heart, both a strength and congenital weakness, failed and led to her passing. She also lived with two forms of cancer. Nothing could hold her down.) Her church. Her childhood, work, and church friends. Her son. Her dog. The home that she offered to us as a prospective lodge. She was where she belonged.
Andrea and I shared quite a life. How she managed to make and keep all these connections can only be explained by her angelic qualities. I will miss her frequent but brief phone calls to check on me. Will glance skyward a little more often, hoping to catch a glimpse of that angel.
What I know, for certain, she has found home, the Big Lodge in the sky. And, if I ever do manage a hole-in-one, I will know that she had something to do with it.