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Stepping Stones hopes to bring community together with candlelight vigil

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To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, Step-by-Step is sponsoring a candlelight celebration to bring together those with mental health diagnoses and other members of the community.

“Light up the Night” will be held 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Step-by-Step, 211 Ford St.

The evening will be organized by Step-by-Step’s sponsored support group, Stepping Stones. Formerly called Big Rascals, Stepping Stones began at Northwood Manor at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in 1998.

“It is a group for people with disabilities–mental and psychological–recovering from drugs or in rehab, and recovering alcoholics that want to give back to the community,” Stepping Stones member Carla Nunes said Wednesday.

Sara Christman, president of the group, said the program has given her a better understanding of her mental illness.

“It is has been absolutely magnificent to see how the people in this group support me every day,” Ms. Christman said. “I have some beautiful friends here who help me every day. If it wasn’t for this group, I would be where I am right now.”

Matthew Madill, who worked in the mental health field for many years and is now struggling with his own mental health diagnosis, said the group has also had a positive impact on his life.

“There is no difference between me and my former patients,” he said. “I have had mental health problems in the last six years. Thanks to this group, I am actually enjoying myself now. I am not down in the dumps. For a while, I didn’t give a hoot by myself. Now I like being here with you guys.”

In an effort to break the stigma against those with mental health diagnoses, one of the group’s goals is to take part in community events. Be it a craft fair at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, making and selling tissue flowers at the Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club Expo, the group works to raise money for its movie nights and ice cream socials or for local charities.

“We enjoy working together and we want to extend that to the community,” Rachel Rolland, group member, said. “We want people to know we are no different than them.”

The candlelight vigil will unite, support and fun for everyone, Terri L. Langenmayr, facilitator for the support group, said.

“There will be music, refreshments, raffles, and, at the end of the evening, there will be a candlelight ceremony where people can share positive stories about how they have stayed well,” she said.

With mental health treatment shifting in the direction of more outpatient care, Ms. Langenmayr said she hopes more patients will turn to support groups like Stepping Stones.

Paul Harkins, Stepping Stones group member, said he is looking forward to sharing his testimonial during the candlelight vigil, and hopes he will inspire others to share their stories.

“Because of this group, I get to get out and work with such an adoring group of people and give back to the community,” Mr. Harkins said. “That gives me such an enjoyment that I don’t think of my illness as much. It makes me feel positive.”

For more information about the vigil, contact 394-0597.

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