SARANAC LAKE - Citizen Advocates now has a new office for its mental health and substance abuse services work.
The building was completed in March, and Thursday marked the official dedication of the organization's new office building for North Star Behavioral Health Services on Edgewood Road.
"For too long, our staff has been confined to spaces that weren't worthy," said Jeffrey Rundell, president of the Board of Directors of Citizen Advocates. Rundell said these "inadequate spaces" made their counseling and treatment work harder.
From left, William Baird from the state Office of Mental Health’s Syracuse field office, North Star Clinical Coordinator Dave Munn, state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, Citizen Advocates Executive Director Greg Langdon, North Star Community Support Services Coordinator Donna Kissane, Citizen Advocates Board of Directors President Jeffrey Rundell, Steve Hanson from the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, state Sen. Betty Little and North Star Chemical Dependency Services Director Beth Lawyer cut the ribbon at the new North Star office building on Edgewood Road.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
"One-stop shopping is so important with mental illness and behavioral issues, and this is what this building does," said state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey of Peru.
Citizen Advocates was founded to provide rehabilitation, residential services and work programs for the developmentally disabled. North Star Behavioral Health Services was founded in 1988 to provide mental health treatment and crisis services, substance abuse treatment and prevention, and community support and case management services.
North Star's mental health, chemical dependency and community support services offices will be housed in the new building as well as the offices of Franklin County Community Services. These offices were scattered before, with the mental health office in Adirondack Medical Center and the chemical dependency and community support services offices on the second floor of the village water works building, next to Little Italy restaurant on Main Street.
Dave Munn, clinical coordinator for the Malone and Saranac Lake offices, said the new building, which has three group rooms, will allow North Star to expand group therapy as well as co-occurring therapy for people who have both mental health and addiction issues.
Damon and Cassie spoke about how North Star has helped their son. Before they brought him in, "He was struggling in every aspect of his life," Cassie said. Now, thanks to the treatment he is receiving, "Our home life is calm, collected and our quality of living is improved beyond our expectations."
"The support for families is so important, as well as the services that are given," said state Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury.
Little said parents of children with mental health issues often have a more difficult time advocating for their children than if the children had a physical ailment.
"It is very difficult, because of the stigma that sometimes goes with mental health issues," Little said. "I thank you for being here and speaking out because putting a face on the issue is key."
Duprey said her maternal grandmother was committed to St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center decades ago after having a mental breakdown while going through menopause. Duprey remembers visiting her regularly with her mother, and on the drive home, her mother would tell her, "Now don't tell your friends where you were."
"My mother grew up being told, 'Don't tell anyone about your mother,'" Duprey said. "Every Sunday, my mom sat at the kitchen table in our home and wrote a letter to her mother. My mother died nine years ago. I'm not sure if she ever fully reconciled her mother's place in her life."
Duprey is on the Assembly Subcommittee on Autism Retention, and she has a grandson with Asberger's syndrome.
"I wear my autism pin every day," Duprey said. "I wear it proudly. What a difference a couple generations makes. From a grandmother who was put away to a grandson who is completing his freshman year of high school."
Little won the Community Health Care Association of New York State's legislative leadership award in 2005, and she was a sponsor of the North Country Regional Suicide Prevention Initiative. She noted that the North Country is an area of great beauty and natural resources, "but we sometimes have isolation" and not as many services as are available in more metropolitan areas.
The event was also something of a farewell for Greg Landon, executive director of Citizen Advocates, who is retiring in July after having been with the group since it was founded.
"If you get a chance, shake his hand," Rundell said. "It's his hand that brought this organization to where we are today, and the many services we offer throughout the county."
Beth Lawyer, director of North Star Chemical Dependency Services, praised her staff.
"It is their energy, their drive and their compassion that makes days like this something to celebrate," Lawyer said.
Lawyer said her years of working with people with addiction issues have shown her that "prevention works, change is possible, and recovery happens."
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.