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Clients, families praise programs

Newly appointed Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Zelia Baugh discusses the importance of keeping mental health programs intact and avoiding cuts to the hundreds in attendance Monday night. -- Desiree Taylor

Hundreds packed out the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center Monday to address their concerns and listen to solutions to keeping mental health programs funded across the state.

After talks of Gov. Robert Bentley possibly making budget cuts to community programs such as mental health programs in 2012-2013, Cahaba Center for Mental Health and Mental Retardation consumers and supporters expressed their heartfelt appreciation for the program and its need in the community.

Recovering alcoholics and siblings Grenda and Shepperd Jemison, who’s been sober for a combined three years, credit the center for their full recovery.

“It’s very important that they don’t cut mental health — it affects us gravely,” said Grenda, 50, who plans to pursue her GED and continue with a degree in counseling. “If anything, we need donations — we don’t need any cuts; I’m going to move forward — I have a lot of support at Cahaba Place. If it weren’t for mental health, I wouldn’t be here.”

Shepperd said Cahaba is like a family.

“It most definitely helps us — we help each other,” Shepperd said. “If they cut the program, they gonna have these folks out here in the same condition.”

Nancy Beard, who’s cared for her grandson with cerebral palsy for 20 years, said Cahaba’s early intervention program helped save her grandson’s life.

“I’m the grandmother of a child who had a very bad report from doctors … that he would never talk or walk or do anything,” Beard said. “He’s doing really good (now) — he makes his own phone calls, he’s doing things no one ever thought he would do.

“If it hadn’t been for mental health, we don’t know what we would’ve done,” Beard said.

From merging the substance abuse and mental health divisions to decreasing the 2012 level-funding budget deficit from $46 million to $6 million, newly appointed Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Zelia Baugh wants the government to make mental health its central focus.

“I’m very proud of the hard work my team has done … we’re very excited about those changes,” Baugh said. “We still have a lot of challenges to go as an agency; I think it’s important to provide a voice for those with intellectual as well as those with developmental disabilities.”

Cahaba executive director Lafon Barlow said Monday’s event was critical and she was grateful for the public’s support.

“I was blown away by the turnout,” Barlow said.

“I’m so proud to be from Selma, I’m proud of my folks and I’m proud to fight for them … we need the programs.”

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