The power or peers: MHA drop-in center offers friendly atmosphere for county residents

Jan. 28, 2010  --ALBION -- Colleen McKenna may find herself socializing with others in front of the television, playing cards or enjoying a meal during a break from her regular duties as director of the Orleans County Mental Health Association in Albion. After all, that's the purpose of the drop-in center.
While MHA was originally aimed toward the mentally ill, it is now open to anyone who is looking for a place to socialize or get support from others. McKenna explained that many of the people who go to the center are either alone or need others to talk with.
"Some use it just as a social club," she said.
The director said she would like county residents to know that the building is open to anyone, and that people should not be shy about dropping in.
"There's such a stigma associated with mental illness," McKenna said. She explained that most of the time, the atmosphere is just a group of people relaxing and passing the time. "We discuss how their week went. ... It's pretty much a place for people to come and talk to other people," she said.
Residents can either become a member for a cost of $6 a month, or they can stop in. Membership fees go toward food, game prizes, outings and other activities. The center is open for residents to drop in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with dinner provided each night. GED classes take place at the center Tuesdays and Thursdays.
There are also support group meetings on certain nights of the week.
Members can hear from guest speakers on certain days, use the computer and copy machine, or enjoy a free cup of coffee or tea. There is also a member of GO ART! who comes to the center once a week to do arts and crafts projects.
"Members do enjoy the art projects," McKenna said. "And every week, we have some sort of a game night."
The MHA also has a van and a driver that can transport people to and from the building.
With members organizing the games, running the store and helping plan meals and outings, the center is truly a peer-run operation.
MHA has been in existence since 1990, with Friends of Mental Health formed in 2004. It has been at its current location for about one year. It is state-funded, reports to the county Legislature, and has to keep its membership up in order to keep its funding.
Some people have been coming to the MHA "since the beginning," said McKenna. Many of those people are on Social Security or can't afford to go anywhere else, and some are in wheelchairs.
"Some people have nowhere else to go, that isn't just a bar," McKenna said. But at MHA, people can walk through the doors without being judged.
"I really do enjoy it ... the people are great here," she said.
The Mental Health Association drop-in center is open to any Orleans County residents age 18 and older. It is located at 438 West Ave., Suite 2, Albion. For more information, call 589-1158.
Drop-in hours
--Noon to 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (dinner served at 5 p.m.)
Weekly sessions
--Stress management support group: 3 to 4 p.m. Mondays
--Spirituality and depression group: 3 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays
--Depression support group: 7 to 8 p.m. Thursdays
--Art classes 3:30 to 4 p.m. Fridays
--Free GED classes: Tuesdays and Thursdays (call Dana at 638-8141 for more information)
Upcoming events
--Wednesday: Trip to Batavia Chinese buffet
--3 to 4 p.m. Feb. 10: Speaker Leslie Allen to discuss sleep disorders