The Mental Health Association in Atlantic County, which provides support, education and advocacy services to men and women with mental illness, has some talented clients, or "consumers," as the organization calls them.
At the same time, the MHA lacks the funds to accomplish all its goals. While the aforementioned services are covered by the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the organization has little money in the budget with which to offer its cash-strapped consumers recreational activities.
On June 19, the group used its consumers' talents to their own benefit at its second annual talent show and charity auction, called "An Evening of Wellness," at Beacon Church in Galloway Township.
Executive Director Vicki Phillips said the recreational activities the MHA offers are an important component of improving its clients' quality of life.
"It allows us to augment our services and to do little extra things for our clients that the contracts don't allow us to provide," she said. "They have very little expendable income, so to be able to get them out to take them bowling for an afternoon or go to the movies, it's a real treat."
Linwood resident Jenmisha Veach opened the talent show with a reading of two of her own poems, called "Emptied Days" and "Rights to Life," set to music she composed. Egg Harbor City resident Sarina Bruno was next, performing a cappella renditions of the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and Rihanna's "Stay." Atlantic City's Kanisha Wallop continued the vocal trend with a performance of Keyshia Cole's "Trust and Believe," and Ocean Grove resident David Wrong closed the show with a guitar and vocal performance of an original song called "Golden Beam."
All four acts were met with enthusiastic cheers from the audience of a few dozen friends of the organization.
The talent portion of the event was organized and emceed by Individuals in Concerted Effort manager Frank Lepore, who said he was impressed by the consumers' performances.
"It's really been a good response," Lepore said. "They really jump at the opportunity to be part of the show. Certainly everybody gets butterflies and gets nervous, but they really come out and do a great job."
In addition to showcasing its members' talents, the MHA took the opportunity to spread the word about its mental health offerings as well as the Hurricane Sandy recovery program NJ Hope and Healing, the local branch of which is run by the MHAAC.
Several community wellness providers, such as the Arc of Atlantic County, Career Opportunity Development and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch, were also invited to exhibit at the event.
One of the aspects of its service the MHA demonstrated was its weekly art therapy group Wellness Rocks, led by staff member Sarah Mooney in partnership with Jewish Family Services. Mooney showed visitors a display of works in various media made by the group in the last year.
Mooney, who has an art education background and is pursuing social work, said art is often helpful to those with mental illness, and the MHA's consumers have responded well to the program.
"There's no pressure," Mooney said. "You kind of make what you want to. I think they're surprised by what they're able to produce."
The event included a silent auction featuring items such as gift cards to local restaurants and shops, goods baskets from Smithville shops, and a custom-built Hurricane Sandy Edition bicycle made by New York-based Worksman Cycles.
The MHA doesn't yet know how much the event raised, organizer and Consumer Services Director Jaime Angelini said, although it was more successful than last year's, which raised about $2,500.
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