Reintegration & Recovery >> First Person
Reintegration is Finding a Place Where You Belong
Nelly Valdez had been a straight A student in high school and had begun college. In her freshman year, she dropped out. The reason: the onset of mental illness. She was hospitalized several times, gained weight, and became uncomfortable talking to people. "I took antidepressants for a while," she says, "but the voices in my head would not go away." She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. "I went from one group day program to another, without any success. And because of conflicts within my family, I had no one to turn to there. I felt alone."
She was referred to Fountain House, and , at age 21, just a few years ago, she joined. At the start, she remained withdrawn, and found it difficult to travel to the clubhouse. A Fountain House reachout team, composed of unit leader Nicole Pickett, member Rochelle Forkowitz and Youth Services Project staff member Ronald Peterson, phoned Nelly every day, encouraging her to come in.
She began coming regularly, helping in the Reception area. Because of the difficulties at home, arrangements were made to move her into a Fountain House apartment. She began a Transitional Employment (TE) job, gained new self-confidence, slimmed down, and started to dress attractively. And she began to plan her future, particularly her return to school. The Education unit helped her fill out college admission and financial aid forms, and a year ago she enrolled in Marymount Manhattan College, where today she is a pre-med student.
Last year, when New York City's Department of Mental Health created a bus and subway poster campaign to promote the hiring of people with mental illness, Nelly was one of four people (two from Fountain House) featured. This year she was named to the Presidential Task Force Studying Youth with Disabilities. "They gave me leadership training so I could advocate on behalf of other young people in my community and around the country," Nelly explains.
"The Commission asked each participant to set a goal for the current year. Mine, which I worked on with the help of Dr. Alan Doyle, the Youth Services Project consultant, is to read up on research regarding disabled youth with major mental illness.
"I thank Fountain House for supporting me- emotionally, financially and spiritually," says Nelly. "Fountain House has changed my life 100 percent. I feel I'm doing the right things. Instead of my just staying in one place, a safe place, they have kept helping me to help myself, improve myself, and move ahead. Everyone here has contributed to who I am now. I hope they keep doing the same for other people."