“People learn to develop and articulate their story [through the program] so they can go into the community and tell their story,” Director James Guffey said of the program.
Joel Slack, the founder of Respect International and instructor of this week’s program, said it was important for those who have faced mental health and/or substance abuse challenges to learn to tell their story and to reach out to the community in an effort to change the stigmatization associated with mental illnesses or addiction.
Those who spoke during Friday’s ceremony, held at the Bartow County Agriculture Building, shared personal experiences of trauma, physical abuse, prior hospitalization and how they have worked through the problems associated with self-medicating through drugs and alcohol.
“I don’t know how anybody could feel like they are part of a community if they have to hide a story about themselves,” Slack said. “... This is an opportunity for people to explain how they have seen their life experiences and make peace with their past.”
Christine Farnum said working with the local center, along with the aid of the RESPECT program, has helped her grow as a person
“My world became very dark in the shell of a body that was once filled with so much light,” Farnum said. “My guilt, shame and codependency had me trapped in my own personal prisons, demons and all.”
She spoke on how she repeated behavior of becoming involved in abusive relationships and using drugs in between being prescribed antipsychotic medication and seeking therapy. Farnum said she was introduced to the Cartersville center during a treatment program she attended in 2011.
“I was able to stay out of the hospital for over a year by using the center when I felt I needed it,” Farnum said. “I finally had people that believed in me and treated me with dignity and respect.
“They showed me ways to overcome my weaknesses and confront my fears.”
Guffey further explained the purpose of the center as well as how it operates.
“We’re a non-traditional provider for services, we have wellness activities throughout the day, we have a 24/7 warm line that people can call to get support over the phone, and we have a thing called ‘respite’ where people can stay up to seven nights [if approved] and it’s completely free,” Guffey said. “We’re completely funded through a government contract.”
He said the center serves about nine to 11 clients a day.
“Everybody that works at the center is a certified peer specialist, and what that means is we’re all people who are living with a mental health challenge or substance abuse problem and basically we’re there to provide peer support,” Guffey said.
For more information about the Peer Support, Wellness and Respite Center, call 770-276-2019. The number also is the organization’s 24-hour warm line.