Wellness Blog

"Wellness is not the absence of illness but the presence of purpose in life; satisfying work and play, joyful relationships, a healthy body and environment— and happiness"

Dawn Haas: Erie Gives 2017

Monday, August 07, 2017

Stairways clients recognized for I am the Evidence

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A group of three Stairways Behavioral Health clients are evidence that recovery is real and have the hardware to prove it.

The Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA named Jeremy Berquist, Albert Thebeault and another individual involved with Stairways as 2017 I’m the Evidence award winners.

I’m the Evidence is the MHA’s highest consumer honor that recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary progress in their recovery from mental illness. The award recipients, who also included another non-Stairways awardee, were presented with a plaque during a recognition ceremony at the Mental Health Association, 1101 Peach St., May 17.

MHA CEO Bill Grove introduced the award winners and their nominators before peers, support staff and loved ones. The I’m the Evidence Awards are presented annually as part of the MHA’s observance of Mental Health Awareness month.

Note: One award recipient chose not to be identified due to confidentiality reasons.


Above: Jeremy Berquist, left, and Albert Thebeault, middle right, pictured with Stairways professionals Stephanie Montgomery and Steve Howell.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Thursday, April 27, 2017

When you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health concern, sometimes it’s a lot to handle.

It’s important to remember that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. Yet, people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem.

That is why this year’s theme for May is Mental Health Month — Risky Business — is a call to educate ourselves and others about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves.

Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis.

Mental Health Month was started 68 years ago by Mental Health America, to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone.

Stairways Behavioral Health is raising awareness of the important role mental health plays in our lives and encouraging members of the community to learn more about their own mental health and to take action immediately if they are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness.

This May is Mental Health Month, we are encouraging people to educate themselves about behaviors and activities that could be harmful to recovery – and to speak up without shame using the hashtag #riskybusiness – so that others can learn if their behaviors are something to examine. Posting with our hashtag is a way to speak up, to educate without judgment, and to share your point of view or story with people who may be suffering—and help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness.

Stairways wants to help people learn what they can do both to protect their mental health and know the signs of mental illness.

If you or someone you know is struggling, talk about it! Call us at 453-5806.

BLOOM artwork featured at Nonprofit Partnership

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Artwork from BLOOM Collaborative has made some new occupants feel at home at their new location.

Seventeen pieces of client art, including two large murals, adorn the new home to the Erie Nonprofit Partnership inside the Carriage House at the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Transformational Philanthropy, 609 Walnut St.

“The client art provides a community-based dynamic that has a significant narrative to it,” said Lee Steadman, Director of BLOOM.

In December, the Nonprofit Partnership moved into the newly renovated Carriage House from its previous location inside the WQLN studios at 8425 Peach St. The Hirt Hagen Center was created as part of a $10 million gift from the Hagen family to fortify the Erie Community Foundation’s mission of assisting nonprofits and charities in the Erie area.

The nonprofit partnership is a membership-based branch of the Community Foundation that provides education, training and tools to strengthen nonprofits.

To see more photos of the artwork, click here.

PNC awards Stairways 9k grant

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A recently awarded grant will help ensure that a group of individuals are on the road to financial success.

A PNC Charitable Sponsorship Grant will infuse more than $9,000 into Stairways’ Financial Education and Savings Program (FESP), a 12-week course designed to promote responsible use of money among individuals with psychiatric disabilities.

The grant will fund the spring 2017 session, marking 10 years since Stairways first launched FESP.

Set in a classroom, the program aims to improve students’ financial stability through money management and savings strategies by teaching topics including budgeting, income sources, banking and credit. Students can also utilize dollar-for-dollar matches that are available upon graduation by identifying a savings goal and reaching $500 in savings through participation in the program.

With the support of PNC, Stairways launched FESP in 2007 to help clients gain control over such an important part of their lives. Over the last decade, 176 people students have completed the program, 117 of whom were able to collect more than $124,000 in combined savings and matches.

Stairways established FESP to give a hand up to mentally ill participants, 85 percent of whom have been low income. With savings and matching funds thanks to grants like PNC’s students have been able to pay for home improvements, medical expenses, utilities, rent, education as well as car and home purchases.

Stairways holds Lunch and Learn

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

BLOOM Collaborative recently played host to a meeting of the minds that brought staff from Stairways, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health Crisis Residential Unit and Saint Vincent Hospital’s inpatient behavioral health program to the table to share ideas.

The Lunch and Learn event on Oct. 20 provided for staff of the respective providers an opportunity to discuss referral procedures and offer overviews of their programs. Stairways program directors gave presentations of services including blended case management, mobile medication management, psychiatric rehabilitation, peer support and residential programs.

This year’s version marked the second such version of the event, after Stairways held the inaugural Lunch and Learn in October 2015.

While there, visitors also toured BLOOM’s five-acre wellness campus to get a taste for its brand of healing arts.

Stairways Blended Case Manager Laurie Bizzarro coordinated the event. As part of her targeted outreach at Saint Vincent, Safe Harbor and Millcreek Community Hospital, Bizzarro helps patients understand the programs that are available to them upon their discharge. This outreach helps individuals to better consider their support options, and assists hospital personnel who are responsible for external patient referrals.

“This event gave staff from a number of different service providers the opportunity to understand how each of us works so that we can determine how to work together to provide the best care possible,” Bizzarro said. “It was great to see the partnerships that we formed at last year’s event come to fruition the way they have and discuss how we can improve them even more in the future.”

Above: Staff of Stairways and St. Vincent meet to discuss ideas.

Stairways nets its best Erie Gives total

Thursday, August 25, 2016

On August 9, Erie gave. And Stairways received.

Stairways was one of the benefactors of a record-setting philanthropic outpouring during the Erie Community Foundation’s Erie Gives event.

Thanks to the generosity of 62 donors, Stairways Behavioral Health collected $8,050 — its highest donation amount in the six-year history of Erie Gives.

“It's a great day!,” Kim Stucke, Stairways’ Chief Development Officer said. "Stairways receives over $8,000 to directly assist our clients thanks to the generous giving on behalf of Stairways donors."

Stairways will use the money it received this year for the Client Wellness Fund, helping to provide clients with opportunities to achieve a healthier lifestyle and the Client Assistance Fund, which is designed to meet emergency needs for clients such as eyeglasses, mattresses and vocational or household items.

For the fifth straight year, Erie Gives, the one-day online charitable donation campaign that draws in contributions for Erie nonprofits and adds a prorated match, set records for the total amount raised ($3.46 million), number of donations (7,387) and matching donation pool ($250,000).

Stairways ranked 93rd out of 354 participating nonprofits in donation money received and 69th in number of donations. Stairways’ average donation was $120.

The Erie Community Foundation held a check presentation ceremony for all recipient nonprofits on Aug. 26. To see the full list of Erie Gives donations, visit www.eriegives.org.

Above: Stairways Development Specialist Juanita Gangemi (middle) receives the Erie Gives Check during the presentation Friday.

Garden makes for medley of uses for Stairways program

Monday, July 25, 2016

A healthy bounty of lessons and produce is the harvest of a garden started and maintained by a Stairways Behavioral Health program this summer.

Clients of Stairways’ Psychiatric Rehabilitation program have transformed a small plot of land on the campus of BLOOM Collaborative to plant and nurture a vegetable garden.

The mission of the garden is two-fold: to learn about preparing fresh and healthy foods and to apply the lessons of maintaining the space to life.

“If you look at a garden, a lot of it can tie in with life,” said Psych Rehab technician and class leader Corinne Madden. “What the sun does for the garden, it does for people.”

The garden is the creation of clients who participate in “Garden Greatness,” a skills building class conducted by Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Each skills class seeks to promotes wellness by motivating clients to take action and work toward growth.

“The first hour (of the class) is focusing on a topic, gaining knowledge and building skills,” Madden said. “The second half is applying it.”

Thus far, clients have created sun catchers, calming jars and a variety of healthy foods from the garden’s harvest.

However, the fruits of their labor are not just limited to the patch of land at BLOOM.

Clients are able to take home the vegetables and fruits that the garden produces. Some clients, Madden said, have even started their own gardens at home.

Blossom's clay classes mold artists

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jane grasps a potter’s needle and meticulously scores the edges of a piece of clay she has rolled and cut out in the shape of a fish.

“It’s just like baking,” she says, setting down the tool that resembles an X-Acto Knife.

“Except instead of egg whites, you use this,” reaching for a nearby jar of slip — a creamy bonding agent made with water and dry, powdered clay.

Jane (left) has made navigating her way around Blossom’s Clay Studio second nature since she started attending classes shortly after they began in February. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, she is one of eight individuals taking part in a class inside the state-of-the-art space on BLOOM Collaborative’s campus.

Though she doesn't exactly view herself as a professional, Jane knows it's not a prerequisite. 

“It’s not that I’m a phenomenal artist — because I’m not — it’s just that I can come to a place where we as people with mental illness don’t have to explain ourselves and we’re all on the same level,” she says.

Providing instruction and materials to sculptors of all skill levels is one of Blossom’s hallmarks. With five classes for BLOOM and Stairways clients that range from beginner to advanced and average about 10 students, pottery instructor Jessie Simmons said she likes seeing artists produce works — whether they’re experienced or getting their hands in clay for the first time.

“I really enjoy getting beginners to try something new that they’re not familiar with,” says Simmons (right), who has been throwing clay since the age of 12. “People are always surprised with what they are able to accomplish and that’s a really great thing to witness.”

With a kiln, shelves of raw and glazed works, spinning wheels, including a wheelchair-accessible wheel, and more room than any ceramics studio in the area, Blossom’s is unique among clay spaces in Erie.

It’s an appropriate setting for a unique medium like clay, which is as artistic as it is practical.

“Working with clay is cool because you produce functional items and you can use your artwork in the kitchen or hang it on the wall,” says Simmons, who views her role more as that of support than teacher.

“Some people, it really clicks for them, and I’m just here to encourage them,” she says.

The topic for today’s class is how to sculpt a three-dimensional fish, a piece that each artist has a different vision for. For some, it’s a trout with its large dorsal fin flowing midway down its back. Jane, however, hasn’t yet determined what species she’ll fashion, as she’s affixes its eyes.

“The eyes are what give it character,” she says as she attaches pearl-sized pieces of clay to each side.

A regular at BLOOM, Jane has been attending classes since her case manager suggested the program then called Center City Arts located on State Street. In the seven years since, she’s made an effort to come every day she can to satisfy her need for creativity.

“One thing I’ve always had is an imagination,” she says. “A wild imagination.”

Jane is now almost done with her work but nearly forgot some finishing touches.

“I gotta put on some whiskers,” Jane says, as she rolls out long, thin strands of clay, which she places leading from each end of the fish’s mouth.

“I think it’s going to be a catfish,” she says.

“It can be anything I want it to be.”

Stairways launches Client Advisory Council

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nearly 100 civically engaged Stairways Behavioral Health service consumers came with questions, concerns and suggestions to the March 30 debut meeting of the Client Advisory Council inside Blossom’s Clay Studio at BLOOM Collaborative.

They were seeking to have their voice heard as well as engage in a larger dialogue about participation in their recovery process.

The Client Advisory Council (CAC) is an assembly that gives clients an opportunity to provide input related to services at Stairways. In addition to helping give clients a greater voice, the aim of the CAC is to increase overall client participation at Stairways.

Internal Audit Manager Beverly Wright led the meeting, which lasted just under an hour. Among the topics discussed were volunteer opportunities, client recognition honors, classes, trainings and group outings.

Stairways interim executive director Robin Dowling and Board of Directors members Kate Bender and Mary Ellen Dahlkemper made introductory remarks, and several division directors then briefly delivered statements on the state of their respective programs before opening the floor to clients.

Clients in attendance received a $15 Wal-Mart gift card and enjoyed refreshments and snacks.

Stairways plans to hold CAC meetings every four to six weeks. The next meeting will take place at 10:30 a.m. until noon on Thursday, May 12 at Blossom’s Clay Studio.

For clients with questions or those interested in registering for the next meeting, please call 392-1761.

Right: Beverly Wright speaks at the Client Advisory Council meeting.

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