MARIETTA - The House of Hope provides a place for Washington County residents with mental health disorders to find fellowship and acceptance, free of the stereotypes that often accompany such a diagnosis.
On Thursday, and over the last year, the members there demonstrated how that acceptance doesn't end with death.
About 30 people gathered for the dedication of a Memory Walk designed and put together by members of the House of Hope, a service of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Five bricks are engraved with the names of consumers who have passed on over the years, and more will be added as needed.
Photo by Evan Bevins
The Rev. Linda Steelman, right, speaks Thursday at the dedication of a Memory Walk designed and built by consumers of the House of Hope on County House Lane outside Marietta to honor past members who have died.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Those attending Thursday’s dedication of the Memory Walk at the House of Hope were encouraged to place stones on the brick bearing an individual’s name to show he or she is remembered and loved.
"They (were) all good people, and this way we could have something to remember them by," said John Hendershot, 65, of the Germantown area.
The House of Hope is a prevention program geared toward "people who are fairly disabled and may not be able to have any type of a community life if it wasn't for House of Hope," said Miriam Keith, consumer support coordinator for the board.
For a total annual cost that would amount to 107 days in a state mental hospital for an individual, members can get together four days a week for meals, go on outings and have parties around holidays. They pay $3 a year for membership and chip in a quarter and do chores in exchange for the meals.
"This gives them a reason to get up in the morning," said Linda Smarr, assistant coordinator for the program. "You don't have that stigma that they do out in society."
Smarr's son didn't leave her house for three years before finally coming to the House of Hope. His experiences there put him on the road to recovery, she said.
Hendershot also benefited as a member of the House of Hope and continues to help out around the facility on County House Lane. He designed the walk and supervised the work, most of which was done by other consumers.
"I never did anything like that before," he said. "I came up with how to do it and asked questions and figured it out on my own."
The Rev. Linda Steelman, pastor of First Congregational Church in Marietta, spoke at the dedication about the importance of remembering loved ones and the value of support from others.
"I believe that as long as someone remembers your story, you're still alive," she said.
Steelman invited friends and family members of the individuals memorialized on the walk to share some of those stories Thursday.
"Helen was a sweetheart," said Smarr, referring to one of the individuals. "She loved to load the dishwasher, and she kept our path clean 'cause she walked back and forth. That was her therapy."
"And she was just a little bit ornery - in a good way," Hendershot added.
Whipple resident Delbert Adams, 52, said it meant a lot to him to have House of Hope members honor his mother, Wanda.
"She was a really good person, a really giving and thoughtful person," he said. "She really looked forward to coming out here and loved everyone."
Brooke Chambers, 32, of Vienna didn't think she would be very emotional at the dedication of the walk, which includes a brick for her mother, Nancy Perdue. But her eyes were soon brimming with tears as Steelman spoke.
"It's a special thing to come and remember her," Chambers said after the ceremony. "She really enjoyed the House of Hope. She spent a lot of time here."
Two sisters of another honoree, Michael Williams, were on hand for the dedication as well.
"Mike Williams was a dear brother to me, and it took me a long time to get over him," Marietta resident Janet Longfellow, 52, said.
The fifth individual on the walk was remembered by Hendershot simply as "a wonderful person." Steelman said nobody may be perfect, but "wonderful" is a pretty good description to earn.
"That's the reason you're here- it's 'cause somebody loves you and you love somebody," she said.
Program director Dorothy Boudinot said they used to plant a tree when a regular at the House of Hope passed on, but after three such memorials, it was decided that was too expensive on their limited budget, not to mention it would start to take up a lot of space.
Although she did not have exact figures available, Boudinot said the walk was accomplished with a small budget, thanks to businesses donating materials and members doing the work themselves.
"It's been such a nice project for them all to work together," she said. "We're just really proud of them for what they've been able to do."