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Survivors celebrate successes.

Byline: JACK MORAN The Register-Guard

Independence was celebrated Saturday at Skinner Butte Park by a group of Lane County citizens who didn't need a high-intensity fireworks show in order to have a good time.

The first-ever "Celebration of Independent Living" attracted more than 100 mentally ill people, many of whom have managed to succeed in society despite their affliction. At a glance, the event looked like thousands of other gatherings that will certainly take place later this week, when the United States celebrates In- dependence Day. Volunteers flipped burgers on a barbecue, friends chatted away at picnic tables and music kept the crowd's collective toes tapping.

But unlike most Fourth of July parties, Saturday's festivities focused upon a sort of independence many of us take for granted - self-sufficient living.

"This is more than just a party," said Donalee Smith, a peer advocate with ShelterCare, which provides support services to mentally ill people. "This is a day to realize we have come a long way. We're making a statement that we are part of the community, and we are here for good. We want to show that we can make a difference."

Smith said she has wrestled with mental illness since before her first visit to a psychiatrist's office, which took place when she was just 12. Now able to live independently without being overcome by feelings of depression and paranoia, Smith spends much of her time helping others understand their disorders.

Her best advice?

"I always tell people to find something to laugh at," she said. `When depression sets in, people tend to lose hope. I tell them `There is life with mental illness.' I just try to keep that hope alive. There is a way to fake it until you make it.'

Smith distributed a bit of good advice Saturday when a young man asked her about the pair of metallic, weighted balls she rolled around in her hands during the celebration.

"I picked them up this morning instead of a cigarette," she explained to the man, also a client of mental health services. "I'm trying to stop smoking."

Clients of services at five community agencies were responsible for lining up food donations and entertainment for Saturday's event, making the celebration an example of independence in action.

"This took a huge effort to pull all of this together," said ShelterCare volunteer Bonnie Blomberg, who helped clients organize the gathering. "These people are all in different stages of care and they've done a great job in setting this up. The clients were the ones who wanted to meet and celebrate their independence. We'll call this a party, but it has more to do with their recovery."

Blomberg explained that living independently means different things to people in different stages of care. For some, it includes living in community supported housing. For others, it means living alone and holding a regular job.

Drake Ewbank of SAFE Inc., a consumer-run, drop-in center for people suffering from mental illness, said everyone benefits from a system of care that leads people to believe they can become self-sufficient.

"Our whole system is oriented around helping people become more independent," said Ewbank. "It costs hundreds of dollars a day for someone to stay at a hospital. Self-sufficiency is not only good for the individual, it is good for the entire system. If people aren't being supported, they use up all of the resources."

Ewbank said SAFE doesn't focus on treating mental illness as much as it tries to "create a situation where people want to get up and live in the world." The agency offers music, poetry and volunteer opportunities in addition to counseling and support services.

The Laurel Hill Center, Halfway House Services, Inc. and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill worked with SAFE and ShelterCare in putting on Saturday's event.

Smith said that while individuals are ultimately responsible for their own recovery, community support agencies provide places for that to happen.

"A lot of people need support in some kind of way," she said. "It used to be that in society, mentally ill people were locked out of a lot of opportunities. By celebrating our own independence today, we are able to show appreciation to the agencies that have helped us become as independent as we are."

CAPTION(S):

Greg Tribe (left) and Bill Monzoor talk over Monzoor's bird at Saturday's "Celebration of Independent Living" at Skinner Butte Park in Eugene.
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Title Annotation:Party: Dozens of people with mental illness mark their days of independence.; Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 30, 2002
Words:738
Previous Article:Communities Roundup.
Next Article:Event helps kids soak up safety tips.


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