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To The Editor:

Years back my son was part of a greenhouse program on the grounds of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. This program was one of the best work programs the state Office of Mental Health offered the mentally ill. My son flourished. He felt part of a community. He felt proud of a job well done every time he returned home. At supper I’d hear about his day-about the seeds planted or weeds picked or flowers peeking through the soil or blossoming or about the Easter lilies or poinsettias. On breaks, he sat outside with fellow workers. The tranquil surroundings were better than any prescription drug, what with the geese swooping overhead and the deer, rabbits, woodchucks and squirrels calling those grounds their home too. He eventually was given the responsibility of going over to another building every day to get the mail.

That might not sound like a big deal, but for someone suffering from a brain disease that was like winning the brass ring. That’s what we all strive for, isn’t it? The brass ring — in our relationships, in our employment. The mentally ill are no different. They want that, too. They deserve that, but it gets farther out of reach every day.

After two years of thriving at the greenhouses, OMH abruptly closed that program down in 2002. Anyone who gardens understands the connection you feel to the soil, to the plants you plant, care for and watch grow. That was the key to that program. Those participating were nurturing so much more than the plants they tended. After the program closed, my son no longer worked. Still to this day he feels it was the way he planted the Easter lilies that led to that closure.

The mentally ill are again on the losing end with the pending closing of inpatient care at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. As a community that has cared for the mentally ill for over 100 years, we must come together to help our fellow citizens.

Step-by-Step, a not-for-profit organization located in the downtown mall, Ogdensburg, and responsible for providing alternate service options for people suffering with mental illness, is in the process of opening a greenhouse where patients can learn vocational skills through the caring of a variety of vegetables, develop self-worth, achieve paid employment, and enhance their overall quality of life. Two town of Oswegatchie farmers have donated land on the Hutchinson Road to house the greenhouses and equipment to ready the grounds. Step-by-Step needs to raise $14,000 to purchase and construct the greenhouses.

Mental illness can strike anyone at any time. I’m asking you to join me in supporting Step-by-Step as they move ahead with this vital program, either with a monetary donation or whatever assistance you can offer. To contact Step-by-Step, call David Bayne, executive director, at 394-0597. Donations can be mailed to Step-by-Step, 103 Ford St., Suite 2 A-B, Ogdensburg, N.Y., 13669.

Barbara Briggs Ward

Ogdensburg

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