When Lori's teenage son was diagnosed with an early on-set of severe schizophrenia it was shattering to all of us who know and love this family of most vibrant human beings, a Bay-Area tribe of remarkable individuals, known for shared qualities giving rise to frequent, random acts of community kindness and a quest for travel, adventure, enduring friendship.
For Lori (pictured at right) to come to terms with her beloved boy's early prognosis and subsequent years of turbulent periods ranging from remarkably serene to downright traumatic, it has been a mother's journey of discovery of her inner most strength and fortitude and a fantastical spirit of positivity, acceptance with a pioneering determination to make much-needed improvements in the field of mental health care for California youth.
Beginning on home turf in Marin County, Lori's first major impact on the county's Transitional Age Youth Program, a collaboration between Buckelew Programs and Family Service Agency of Marin has been as a leading influence in the launch of a spacious, new office center for the TAY Program in downtown San Rafael.
Thanks to the generosity of Sarah Shaw (pictured at left at the new office opening celebration on Lincoln Avenue with Kathy Eagle, TAY Team Leader, center), the TAY program is also looking for a new training house for young men and women (16-25) of Marin County who are struggling with mental health challenges.
The TAY program uses a strength-based model and integrates wellness and recovery principles, supporting transitional age youth to become architects of their own futures.
As Lori had discovered through her own personal experience, there is, except for the TAY program, a staggering lack of resources for young people suffering from similar mental health problems as her son. No longer a child, but not yet equipped with the experiences of an adult, this critical stage of transition requires guidance, supervision and care not easily available or affordable here in California.
Currently TAY provides full services to around 20 young adults and partial services to 70 to 100 more young men and women each year. Staffed by a Team Leader, Team Partner, Peer Mentor, Independent Living Skills Counselor and Family Advocate, TAY office services are community-based, with outreach by these staff, volunteers and many fully involved parents such as Lori.
Youth in need of full services are referred by County Mental Health Services and after an initial assessment, TAY provides 24-hour crisis management, medication oversight, peer mentoring, housing support, education and employment support.
Families and youth assist in the development of an individualized service plan based on a picture of the youth's goals for independence and psychiatric needs, symptoms and challenges, housing, education and job needs including a range of social issues and concerns.
Thanks to the generous support of the Shaw Family, the new training office on Lincoln Avenue offers all sorts of effective socialization programs including art, meditation, mind over mood, movie night, movie and video production in a small, on-site media center. Staff have been able to develop new collaborations with other providers to bring services such as counseling sessions and job training classes to the TAY offices.
Lori's story is not unique. Sadly there are many more young men and women in the North Bay suffering from mental health illnesses such as schizophrenia, yet the development of programs within the community such as the Transition Age Youth Program help dispel much of the mystery, confusion and helplessness felt by the supportive families and provide invaluable full or partial care for the youth themselves, within an open environment.
Until you, or someone close to you experiences mental severe health challenges with a youth in the family, the crisis that these families face sometimes on a daily basis simply does not hit home. Programs such as TAY are a lifeline to the community. It is remarkable that given the current state of the economy, private funding has enabled this superb North Bay program to continue to expand and to realistically dream of furthering its reach in 2010.