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Take steps to help our community's mentally ill

The needs of those in our community who every day contend with the challenges of mental illness largely go unnoticed. That is, until some extraordinary event catapults a unique situation onto the front page. Then, well-meaning people lament the lack of services.

One group in Citrus County, however, is taking a different, more positive approach by seeking a community buy-in to a project that will create a promising and long-overdue resource.

NAMI-Citrus has been working for more than a year to make their dream of a "clubhouse" a reality. All they need now is a bit more community support - and money.

On Saturday, NAMI will host its first Walk for the Mind of America along the Withlacoochee State Trail. Starting at 9 a.m., registered walkers will stroll along the scenic trail from Liberty Park in Inverness to Eden Drive, and back again, a distance of about 3 miles. Through registration fees and pledges, the group aims to raise about $10,000 toward its goal of $50,000.

The clubhouse concept is a natural outgrowth of the changing attitudes toward mental health issues. Whereas 50 or so years ago, those facing such challenges were simply locked away in jails or institutionalized, today there are more treatment options available.

More medications, therapies and other measures have offered hope to the mentally challenged and their loved ones. But those advances only go so far. Society still has a long way to go toward making them fully functioning members.

Rather than bemoan the lack of local resources, NAMI-Citrus (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) is taking a positive step.

The clubhouse concept allows members to work with staff to run the facility, which would be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. By working with staffers, the mentally challenged will learn a variety of life and occupational skills. Members could also work toward passing the GED test and receiving college degrees or trade school diplomas; get help with housing, health care and other needs.

State grants and Medicaid reimbursements will handle the bulk of the clubhouse's operating expenses, but NAMI needs help garnering the startup funds.

Clubhouses have sprung up around the United States and in other countries over the past 30-plus years, proving their worth time and again. Through the hard work of NAMI-Citrus, our community may soon see a clubhouse of its own.

You can help by doing nothing more strenuous than opening your wallet, and taking a walk along a scenic trail.

TO LEARN MORE

For more information, call Debbie Lattin at 726-3181.

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