My Voice. My Participation. My Board. Concludes Fifth Cohort

University Center Project Reaches Five-Year Benchmark in Self-Advocacy

Atlanta, GA: On December 9-10, 2017, the final meeting of the fifth cohort of My Voice. My Participation. My Board (MVMPMB) was held in Augusta, GA. This gathering was the conclusion of a three-part, multi-day training on self-advocacy, which focused on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) learning how to be effective and engaged members of the board of directors and advisory councils.

Far too few individuals with IDD have had the opportunity to make valuable contributions as members of boards and councils. MVMPMB seeks to change that by training and preparing individuals with IDD to contribute to the work of state agencies, and both for-profit and nonprofit organizations in Georgia and the United States. Project Coordinator, Susanna Miller-Raines, agrees that “having people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on boards and advisory councils as active, participating members and not tokens, is vital to being diverse and inclusive. Their voices, experience and perspectives are valuable.”

Paige McKay Kubik, the Executive Director of the Frazer Center in Atlanta, GA shares how their experience of having a member of their board with a developmental disability has been so important. “[This individual’s] opinions and feedback are critical. They inform and vet board decisions so that [the board is] respectful and responsive to the needs and desires of the people we support,” said Kubik.

The MVMPMB program consists of three components, all of which help participants prepare for and obtain leadership roles. First is “Self-Awareness & Self-Advocacy”. During the first session, participants identify their personal strengths and how they can contribute to a board or council’s success. Liz Weintraub from the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) was the guest lecturer for this weekend. Next is an in-depth look at “What are Boards of Directors and Advisory Councils?”. Members and peer-mentors will be able to identify the characteristics of an effective board member and ways in which their unique gifts and talents fit in that role. The cohort concludes with “Translating Knowledge into Practice”, where members and peer-mentors will take the knowledge that they have gained in Part One & Part Two and practice the skills they have learned through a series of scenarios and the opportunity to network with professionals within the disability community.

MVMPMB alumni have become involved in over 20 boards and councils throughout Georgia. Alumni serve on boards at the Frazer Center and DIG, Inc. Three alumni serve on the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. They also serve on advisory councils for the Autism Plan for Georgia, the CLD, and the Atlanta Autism Consortium.

This project is made possible through a funding partnership between the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

About CLD: The Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) is a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). CLD provides interdisciplinary education, community training, technical assistance, research and information dissemination with the goal of improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities of all ages and their families. CLD is administratively located within the Center for Healthy Development and the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

Silent Voice Screaming to be Heard

A lived experience essay by Lorenzo Hardy Jr.

My earliest memories as a child are that I never had a period in my childhood where I was happy. Yes, I had fun moments but there were no months or years that I can recollect that were happy.  My family did not celebrate birthdays, holidays, or participate in school activities. I was not physically abused but I witnessed domestic abuse on a frequent basis. This is not to say I was not loved or point the finger; I believe my parents did the best they knew.

I was an honor roll student who was told on a regular basis that the world was going to end. As I went through elementary and Jr. high school I felt it was not fair that I could not experience the fun I saw other good children having. I REBELLED and joined the basketball team without permission and was told that I had to quit. It was the first time I felt like a part of something other than family. I made the choice to take a full bottle of prescription drugs and went to sleep for what I thought was an eternity (In my ignorance; I took my sisters pills for female problems). I woke the next morning confused, nauseous, and having severe cramps. My mother took me to the hospital after I informed her of my mischief. I received no psychiatric care other than being asked was I going to do it again. No matter how hard I tried to tell everyone that I believed different and wanted a different life, I was always told to do what they felt was best for me.

After high school, I rebelled again and was the first in my family to attend college. During my freshman year, I was accused of a crime which I did not commit and, after suing the state of New Jersey, was given a small monetary award. The reason I received a small amount was because it was determined my older brother committed the crime and if I did not accept the settlement then they would pursue the case against him. This event was all I needed to hit the streets and justify it by saying, “There is no justice so I am going to get mine by any means available.” After numerous run-ins with the criminal justice system, I was sentenced to 2 years in prison. I came home and attacked the streets with a vengeance attempting to make enough money to secure my life. For the first time in my life, I was heard loud and clear. “Uncle Sam” heard me loud and clear.

The Federal Government had an indictment against me and my lawyers told me I would do a minimum of 20 years. This was not acceptable to me. I decided to pay someone to take me out of my misery and leave my children with a great financial start in life. As with everything so far in my life, this failed. I was shot in the head only to wake up in the hospital for a prolonged stay. I had to serve my time.

I went into prison bitter and thinking there is no way I could serve 20 years. I would complain and act out every chance I could. After acting and coming out of the special housing unit, I was playing chess with a gentleman who was serving 7 LIFE SENTENCES. He gave me a prison education I will never forget. He stated, “You keep crying for justice, give yourself the time you think you deserve because you and I both know the things you did. After giving yourself the correct time, ask yourself how many times you got away with crimes; do you really want Justice?”

It was at this time that I started to accept my responsibility and be accountable for my life.  I read over 2000 books and used my new found knowledge to develop new coping skills. Instead of quitting, I started solving my problems and coping with the pains of my choices. I gave others support and used support from others. I realized that HOPE had entered my life and I wanted to become something other than a statistic and stereotype.

Upon release, I went to Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency who paid for my training as a Certified Peer Specialist. Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network became my family and provided countless other training for me including Forensic Peer Mentor.

I am proud to say that I am now a productive citizen with a 775 credit score, I provide volunteer service, and I have been gainfully employed since my release. Ironically statistics show that a person with my criminal background will end up back in prison. I proudly say on this occasion they were right, but I now work at Phillips Transitional Center as a PEER MENTOR.

The Relation of Negative Career Thoughts to Depression and Hopelessness

Daniel D. Dieringer, Janet G. Lenz, Seth C. W. Hayden, and Gary W. Peterson

Although some research literature focuses on the integration of mental health and career counseling, there has been little that examines both areas in relation to depression and hopelessness. This study investigated the relationship among dysfunctional career thinking, depression, and hopelessness in a sample of 139 undergraduate and graduate students seeking drop-in or individual career counseling services at a university career center. The authors found that two aspects of dysfunctional career thinking, decision-making confusion and commitment anxiety, accounted for a significant amount of variance in depression. Decision-making confusion also accounted for a significant amount of variance in hopelessness. Implications for counseling practice include the need for more careful screening of career clients who present with high levels of anxiety and negative thinking. Future research could involve more diverse client populations, such as unemployed adults, and explore the use of additional screening measures to assess the intersection of career and mental health issues.


Read the complete article here.

Independence in its Deepest Meaning

Happy Summer to all! The transition to a new season on the calendar offers an opportunity to reflect upon the previous months and also peek forward into the weeks ahead.

Summer represents different things to each of us. For some it is the relief from school schedules, for others, the promise of a planned vacation, and still others, the joy of ballgames or concerns about sweltering heat. One element of summer that brings us all together is the celebration of July Fourth. There is something about the waving of the Red, White and Blue of our nation’s flag that brings us together and compels us to think about the gifts of freedom and independence. Hot dogs in hand, with family and friends we honor both the idea of independence, and also the reality of the liberties that we enjoy. It is a great way to unify in celebration.

Of course, independence has additional meaning for DBHDD team members, and our partner providers and advocates. We strive to promote independence and integration into the community for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) each and every day. Creating opportunities that allow for individual advancement is our mission, and I thank all of you for your collective commitment to demonstrating that Georgia can be a leader in this movement toward recovery and independence. Like every civil rights movement before it, the drive for people with disabilities to achieve more has been bolstered by very capable individuals that inspire and challenge us to push forward. Sometimes that requires assistance from DBHDD, and other times, that requires us to step out of the way. We are working hard to do both, so that our administrative necessities do not stand in the way of independence, but instead, facilitate it.

In June, I had the privilege to share in a celebration of Georgia’s leadership for people with disabilities. Governor and Mrs. Deal hosted a press conference at the Capitol to celebrate the launch of Georgia’s STABLE program. STABLE is the fulfillment of federal legislation designed to enhance the ability for people with disabilities to save and invest without losing benefits. It is tax-free savings plan that allows for qualified disability-related expenditures through the use of a STABLE card. You can learn more about this progressive program through the link on the DBHDD website or directly at The press conference featured DCH Commissioner Frank Berry, Chair of the Georgia’s ABLE Board, Rep. Lee Hawkins, sponsor of Georgia’s ABLE legislation, and Tena Blakely, representing advocates and providers in Georgia. Governor Deal’s personal pride and commitment to people with disabilities was on full display. The wind beneath the wings of this effort is most certainly individuals that motivate us through individual courage and achievement. It is a proud step forward toward individual independence for people with disabilities.

This reflection upon freedom offers an additional opportunity for gratitude. This expression of thanks is to our veterans that bravely answered the call to serve our country and many of whom answered a similar call to serve Georgia’s most vulnerable individuals. DBHDD and our provider network employ numerous veterans, and we want to thank each of you for your commitment to serve. We honor your courage, dedication, and the selfless work you do each day. At our state office at 2 Peachtree, we are inspired every day by Dr. Emile Risby, DBHDD’s Medical Director. Dr. Risby is a Colonel in the United States Army Reserve and embraces this duty with the same enthusiasm that he leads our hospitals. This is further evidence that the goals and values we strive to achieve are often embodied by those right in front of us.

Happy Independence Day to us all!

Judy Fitzgerald, Commissioner
Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities

Coordinated Specialty Care Programs for First-Episode Psychosis: Georgia’s LIGHT-ETP Initiative

In 2015, under the leadership of Monica Johnson, Director of the Division of Behavioral Health, and Dawne Morgan, Director of Federal Grant Programs and Special Initiatives, DBHDD began developing the Listening, Inspiring, and Guiding Healthy Transitions Early Treatment Program (LIGHT-ETP), to bring Coordinated Specialty Care services to Georgia’s young adults ages 16-30.

Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) is an evidence-based approach to providing team-based, integrated treatment to young people in the early stages of severe mental illness, with the goal of reducing disability and promoting long-term recovery.

Recognizing that many individuals with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder experience the first symptoms of illness during adolescence and young adulthood; and that many encounter long delays before receiving effective, evidence-based treatment, LIGHT-ETP is an ambitious effort to address the needs of young people and their families at a critical point in their lives.

The goals of LIGHT-ETP include early detection of psychosis; rapid access to coordinated, team-based, specialty care; recovery-focused interventions; and youth- and young-adult-friendly services that emphasize engagement, person-centered planning, shared decision making, assertive outreach, and family involvement.

The services offered by these multi-disciplinary teams include psychotherapy, case management, supported education and employment, peer support, family support and education, medication management, and primary care coordination.  The intended outcomes: a reduction in the duration of untreated symptoms and illness; reduction in unnecessary hospitalizations; and improved clinical, social, and academic/occupational functioning.

Research conducted worldwide over the past two decades supports the value of early intervention following an initial episode of psychosis.  In the U.S., findings from the National Institute of Mental Health’s RAISE (Recovery after Initial Schizophrenia Episode) Study ( which was launched in 2009 spurred the implementation of CSC services in community settings throughout the country.

Over 150 young people have been served in DBHDD’s Coordinated Specialty Care programs, which are currently offered by four Community Service Boards and are funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s Community Mental Health Block Grant.  Advantage Behavioral Health Systems in Athens, Aspire in Albany, and River Edge in Macon now have Coordinated Specialty Care programs.  View Point Health in Metro Atlanta has two CSC teams, one serving DeKalb and Fulton counties, the other serving Gwinnett County.  McIntosh Trail, in Region 6, will have a CSC program operating within the next few months.

Hospitalization rates and legal system involvement have substantially decreased for young people in DBHDD’s CSC programs, and the focus on education and employment has resulted in many program participants remaining in or returning to school, and finding and keeping meaningful work.

For further information on the LIGHT-ETP initiative, or to make a referral to a Coordinated Specialty Care program, please contact Project Coordinator Ellen Dean at

Home Again Targets Kids at Risk for Foster Care

Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.

Highland Rivers Health and its supporters celebrated Thursday another tool aimed at keeping local children out of the foster care system.
The brainchild of CEO Melanie Dallas, the Home Again program offers customized help for Floyd County kids, ages 8 to 18, and their families with mental health problems.
“In Georgia, as a whole, we don’t do enough to support families in crisis,” she said. “And Floyd is one of the top in the state for the number of foster kids placed outside their home county.”
She came up with a short-term, intensive, program that teaches children and their parents hw to handle the problems — such as depression, drugs, aggression, self-harm and truancy — that threaten to tear them apart.
“We try to get families so they can live in the home together, Home Again,” Dallas said.
There’s one in Gordon County, and the Floyd County office at 1838 Redmond Circle, Suite E, held a ribbon-cutting Thursday. A third is planned for space in Pickens County.
Dallas said the program is funded by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and will soon be a Medicaid-reimbursable service.

Highland Rivers Health therapist Ricardo Bermudez (left) talks with community support staffer Carol Casey during the Thursday opening celebration of their Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle.
Highland Rivers Health therapist Ricardo Bermudez (left) talks with community support staffer Carol Casey during the Thursday opening celebration of their Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, championed the program by working to ensure start-up funding in the 2016 state budget.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
She said many children who end up in foster care come from families with mental or behavioral problems, including addiction. Home Again targets those issues.

Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (from left), Floyd County Commissioner Larry Maxey, state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Michael Mullet, the organization’ community relations director, celebrate the opening of its Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (from left), Floyd County Commissioner Larry Maxey, state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Michael Mullet, the organization’ community relations director, celebrate the opening of its Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.

“It could be for the parents. It could be for the child. But it’s to try to get ahead of the situation,” Dempsey said. “We try to keep the family together because, almost always, the child wants to stay with a parent.”
Ricardo Bermudez the program therapist, is currently working with eight families. He said they could be referred through the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice — or by anyone, including teachers, doctors, pastors, neighbors and the parents themselves.
“These are kids who potentially would be moved out of their homes,” he said. “The goal is to re-establish the unity within the families, to stabilize them.”
The Floyd office can serve up to 10 families, Dallas said, but she’s advertising for another licensed therapist and will then be able to double the number.
For information about the program, visit the website, email or call 706-784-4175, extension 4702.

Diane Wagner May 19, 2017

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Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

In December, 2016, Tony Sanchez, Director of Recovery Transformation Services at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities participated in a RESPECT Institute of Georgia training that was hosted at the Sparrow’s Nest in Athens. Below, Tony shares his thoughts about his experience.

For several years, I have heard from many Peers that the RI training was a trans-formative experience. In December, 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in a RI and I can affirm that it is trans-formative – and healing.

I confess that I felt vulnerable when I started sharing my story with the other participants. I wasn’t planning on it, but I found myself sharing
experiences and feelings that I had never shared with anyone before. I actually think everyone felt vulnerable, but there was so much encouragement and compassion, that everyone took a chance. Everyone took a chance to be open and authentic and though it felt raw emotionally, it was also very liberating and healing.

Having been a veteran of the 12-step program, I assumed that the RI training would come easy to me. But I realized that the expectations of the RI require a different approach. For example, the exercise of having to write out my story and condense 40 years of my life into a 10-minute presentation demanded that I prioritize my lived experiences and at the same time deliver an educational and poignant message. This was not an easy task, but as I continued to edit my presentation, I realized how far I had come in my recovery. I realized that my resilience and recovery eclipse all of the pains and struggles of my life.

What I will treasure the most from my RI experience is the feedback sessions. After a participant shares their story, everyone is so encouraging and empathetic and compassionate that these sessions felt sacred. And when you consider that these stories have been held inside for so long due to shame and stigma, these sessions truly are sacred.

In my position at [DBHDD], I have had many opportunities to hear RI Graduates begin an important meeting by sharing their stories. Now that I have participated in a RI, I want to impress upon everyone that behind every 10-minute inspirational presentation, there is an enormous amount of effort. The RI is designed with great precision, but to get the optimal benefits, a participant goes through three days of intense, emotional and sometimes exhausting processes as they make peace with their past and learn to tell their story. And telling their stories is precisely what the RESPECT Institute Graduates do – every day. To date, RESPECT Institute Graduates have presented their recovery stories to over 100,000 Georgia stakeholders.

From The RESPECT Institute of Georgia Team
We encourage all Graduates to go into their community and tell their story!
Jen Banathy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Organizational Development Coordinator
Denise Hardy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Training Coordinator
Shelia Corn
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator
Lindsey Sizemore
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator

Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

Veterans’ Day Event at West Central Regional Hospital

vetdaywcgrh2016West Central Georgia Regional Hospital, along with three veterans service organizations, hosted a special recognition lunch event for staff, client, and special guest veterans in observance of Veterans Day last month.

The local veterans service organizations included the American Veterans (AMVETS) Post 9, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 12110, and the Marine Corps League Detachment 1402. The mission of these organizations is to assist veterans and their families.

The event was coordinated by WCGRH staff member Brent Eaton, who is also a veteran and member of the veterans service organizations which supported the event. Volunteers who also helped put on the event included hospital staff members of the employee appreciation function team. Guests included Edward L. Richards post commander of AMVETS, Donald Anthony Commander of VFW Post 12110, Mackey Carter Chaplain of VFW Post 12110, Charles Youmans member of AMVETS and VFW.

Regional Hospital Administrator John Robertson welcomed the guests, and Eugene Brown provided the invocation. Brent Eaton awarded 50 staff and client veterans with a certificate of appreciation for their years of service in the United States Military. Veteran and active duty service members represented included the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National and State Guard, and Army Reserve.

58th annual Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade bring holiday cheer to state hospitals

ecrhmotorcade2016Cities across Georgia participated in the 58th annual Georgia Municipal Association’s Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade, donating gifts to individuals at DBHDD’s state hospitals.

The event is named for its inaugural 1959 procession which provided gifts to individuals living at what is now Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. Governor Ernest Vandiver started the motorcade in 1958 to raise awareness for mental health across the state.

“The Mayors’ Motorcade is sort of the centerpiece of the hospital’s holiday celebration because [the people we serve] don’t have an opportunity to go home to their families,” said Andy Mannich, regional hospital administrator for Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah.

According to the association, the fund and gift drive brings comfort items and personal necessities to more than 1,000 people with developmental disabilities and behavioral health needs.

Advantage BHS consolidating three Athens operations into one location

logo-advantage-behavioral-healthAdvantage Behavioral Health Systems completed the purchase of the former Clarke School District Administration building recently, allowing the community service board to consolidate three locations into one space and enabling the agency to reduce overhead costs while expanding access.

“When we combine all of our Athens behavioral health operations into the Mitchell Bridge building, program efficiency will dramatically increase and the treatment and referral process for our clients will become much smoother,” said David A. Kidd, Advantage BHS Board Chair.

Located at 240 Mitchell Bridge Road in Athens, the 55,000 square foot facility was once the Charter Winds psychiatric hospital. The property includes a 17-acre campus. Construction is expected to begin this month with an opening date of February or March 2017.

Advantage Behavioral Health Systems is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Advantage Behavioral Health Systems serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton counties.