When Jennifer Ortiz began working with one severely mentally ill man, who had just been released from a psychiatric facility, he would tell her stories about how he performed surgeries in the hospital.
"You never challenge a delusion," she said. So she would say things such as, "That's interesting. I have never heard of that before."
He hoarded things and didn't participate in group sessions at the First Day partial care program she runs during the week for the nonprofit Family Service Association in Absecon. He wrote constantly, but his notebooks were full of gibberish, she said.
A year and a half later, that man's mind is clear, he has a part-time job and lives in supported housing through another nonprofit, Career Opportunity Development, she said. He spends two days a week at the FSA day program.
"Not everybody advances that well," she said. But even in more difficult cases, "Small victories keep us going."
Ortiz is FSA's manager of the year, recognized for her work with people who suffer from the most complex mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. The program's goal is to keep people from being rehospitalized by giving them support and structure during the day, she said.
Working with this population takes flexibility, patience and an understanding of illnesses for which there is not yet a cure.
"It's not going to go away 100 percent, but we can help get people back to functioning at their best level," Ortiz said, adding that everyone - mentally ill or not - struggles with some kind of of lifelong medical or other issue.
A graduate of Rowan University with a master's degree from Kean University, she lives in Franklinville, Gloucester County, with her husband, Tom, who works in Information Technology for Galloway Township, and her sons, Aaron, 8, and Nathan, 5.
Call FSA's Access line at 609-569-0239 or visit
Stockton professor at U.N.
Richard Stockton College Professor of Holocaust & Genocide Studies Carol Rittner, of Longport, will speak at the United Nations in New York City from 1:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. today on "Engaging Religions in the Prevention of Mass Atrocity."
She will discuss the genocide in Rwanda and whether or not churches were complicit there. The program will be webcast live at http://webtv.un.org/.
Tonight at 7 p.m. in the Stockton Campus Center Theatre, Carl Wilkens will premiere his documentary, "I'm not Leaving," about the aid worker's decision to be the only American to remain in Rwanda after the genocide began in 1994.