By Jerry Carton
Rain forced the event indoors but the weather did not dampen the spirits of those who showed up for Alternatives' annual party hosted by Gardner-based Crystal House Clubhouse.
Alternatives "is a non-profit human service agency currently serving over 2,000 adults with developmental and psychiatric disabilities in 60 residential, employment and day programs" throughout central Massachusetts including Winchendon.
Normally held in Monument Park, last Friday's celebration nonetheless attracted nine vendors and a band. Tune Foolery, a band comprised of people who have experience with mental health issues, is on hand every year.
"It's the first time we've been rained out" in 10 years, lamented Tammy Deveikis, a program director at Crystal House, adding, "this event is meant to raise awareness in the community of all the mental health resources in the local towns. That includes Winchendon of course, and we do have people from Winchendon , though we're always trying to reach out to that community to get more of them to come join us. I understand though transportation can be an issue," acknowledged Deveikis.
In addition to Crystal House Clubhouse and Alternatives, vendors included The Bridge of Central Massachusetts, Mount Wachusett Community College, IPPI, Seven Hills, LUK, Gardner Police, and Gardner Community Action.
"It's no secret these are difficult times for a lot of people," noted Deveikis. "That makes what we do, what all the Alternatives' programs do, that much more essential. That's also why we want to reach out to all the towns around Gardner. Winchendon's important to us. We know the numbers. We understand the mental health issues in a lot of communities."
Deveikis pointed out that at Crystal House, members don't just have a place to hang out.
"We're bridging people back into the community," she said, noting members are directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the facility, answering phones, planning and preparing up to 40 meals every day, and all the while following action plans designed to help them reintegrate, including holding part time jobs.
Rep. Jon Zlotnik (D-Gardner) called Crystal House Clubhouse "a success story."
Deveikis hopes so.
"When I see people making progress in their lives, going back to school, getting jobs, using the things they learned or developed here, that's really rewarding," she said.