UPPER DARBY >> Over the last 20 years, a community effort to diagnose and support individuals with mental illness, drug addiction and those suffering from abuse and trauma has been conducted by the Office of Behavioral Health and Magellan in Delaware County.
Joined by members of Delaware County Council, the behavioral health leadership team of workers, family members, patients, caregivers and others gathered at the Drexelbrook Catering and Special Event Center to celebrate another passionate year of community building.
Headlined by a rousing, humourous and oftentime heartbreaking story of triumph and tribulations, Tonier Cain, author of the book “Healing Neen: One Woman’s Path to Salvation from Trauma and Addiction,” spoke to caregivers and survivors alike on the promise of a bright future despite a hopeless past.
“You’re balancing and their life,” Cain said of the delicate balance that a caregiver must offer to patients in the mental health industry. “You are a life-changer, you are in a position to change someone’s life.”
Cain said that while at times the efforts to care for others can be draining, she hoped to offer some inspiration from her own story. She was just 9 years old at the time of her first sexual assault. She was the victim of neglect, molestation, and alcoholism, and at that point was already caring for her younger siblings.
“I always smelled like urine,” Cain said, afraid to leave her room at night. “I didn’t know who I might run into in the hallway going to the bathroom, so my safe place was to lay there and pee on myself.”
At school, the kids would circle her and make fun of her. At home she was terrorized by strange men and other contributing factors of abuse by her family. She had no mother in the classic sense of the word.
By 14, Cain attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills, but awoke in the hospital where she was misdiagnosed and released to the care of her aunt.
She married an older man who abused her, had children taken by youth services, became addicted to crack cocaine at 19. She said she was arrested 83 times and earned 66 convictions.
“One hit of crack and I cleaned his house, the neighbor’s house and detailed the car,” Cain joked, eliciting laughter as a form of self-depreciation that Cain has taken to embolden and empower her message.
But finally, she said, through the helpful support of counselors, abuse specialists and members of the criminal justice system, Cain persevered and now tours the world as a source of inspiration to those who think they’ll never succeed in kicking addiction or escaping from abuse.
“What a difference it made in (my daughter’s) life,” Cain said. “My daughter doesn’t know what it’s like not to have somebody ask about her homework, I have never missed a parent teacher conference, I may sure my calendar is clear so I can walk my daughter into class the first day of school.”
Provider awards were granted to the Crozer-Keystone’s Center of Excellence, which works to combat opioid abuse, addiction and overdose; NHS Human Services; and Child and Family Focus.
Two recipients of the Star of Excellence Award were given to Robert Joyce and to the Orsine family for the advocation and fostering of recovery and resiliency in children and adults.
Joyce was described as a man who did not talk much, did not leave the house, and shied away from contact outside of support stuff, but on Wednesday he gracefully accepted the award and offered dearest things to the few hundred people in attendance.
“I want to say thank you very much for the support I’ve been given,” Joyce said.
An active participant in Welcome House, a mental health peer support service, Joyce socializes, rides independently on public transportation and offers support to the other residents — a true beneficiary of the services offered from the Office of Behavioral Health.
The Orsine family were praised for its support to those with mental illness, meeting all direct staff members and having “taken the time to educate each other about mental illness so they can help their family member reach our recovery goals.”
A Star of Excellence Award was given to Theodore Culpepper who had become homeless in 2009. He had been employed as a supervisor in a residential program before complications of mental illness led him to being incarcerated, causing a strained relationship with family that led to substance abuse and living in a shelter made.
Successfully devoting himself to finding stability in his life, Culpepper began volunteering for the Gift of Life program, a regional non-profit organ donation organization in Philadelphia, began working as a peer specialist, worked with Delaware County’s Crisis Intervention Team and went back to school to receive his GED.
Culpepper, on Wednesday, was honored with the Peer Leadership Award.
“As a result of the collaboration between Magellan and the rest of these organizations, I’m able to stand here gratefully and receive this award,” Culpepper said, who personally thanked staff members by name of the Office of Behavioral Health and other related agencies who helped him through his struggles.
“I’m a product of my own determination,” Culpepper said. “But without the people I work with I couldn’t have done it.”