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Cornerstone Celebrates Decade of Offering Hope for Mentally Ill

by Christi McEntyre, published in The Walker Messenger

Cornerstone, a division of Lookout Mountain Community Services, celebrated its 10th anniversary at an open house lunch Thursday, May 16.

As a daytime peer-support program, Cornerstone has helped locals recovering from mental illnesses find solidarity and stability as well as learn the tools necessary to successfully gain a degree or facilitate a job search.

Cornerstone has been serving Walker, Dade, Catoosa and Chattooga counties from its current location at 806 E. Villanow St. in LaFayette for the past 10 years.

The event was organized with the help of and featured speakers from the Rome, Ga., chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Jamie Moore, daughter of NAMI Rome president and chairwoman Jim and Bonnie Moore, spoke about her own experiences with mental illness as part of the “In Our Own Voices” program. During her talk, Moore emphasized the importance of community, coping skills and a healthy and structured environment to a successful recovery, and encouraged the consumers to speak out about their own discoveries about what does and does not work for them in their own journeys to better mental health.

Moore also told of the importance of finding a doctor with whom she could have a trusting relationship, as the road to recovery is often very long, with multiple different medications prescribed on a trial-and-error basis.

That’s because every person and every illness is different, she said, and no person can be or should ever be wholly described by their mental illness. She often jokes with friends and family, she said, that she suffers from “The Jamie” rather than any particular illness.

“I’m Jamie. I’m not my illness.”

NAMI hopes that through Cornerstone and similar programs across the country, people can begin to not only recognize the prevalence of persons with mental illness in their communities — it affects one in every four individuals in the United States — but also begin to break down many of the stigmas surrounding mentally ill persons.

In Walker County, for example, Cornerstone has helped to bring many individuals back to their feet over the years, including the formerly homeless James Ball.

Ball, 51, is a Walker County native who has worked in industry his whole life, including 10 years at Shaw. As with many others, he found himself in a bad place during the onset of the economic recession, and became homeless.

“I was living on the streets, having to eat out of dumpsters,” he said.

Ball didn’t realize, however, that he is one of millions of Americans who has bipolar disorder. “To me it seemed like back luck was following me,” he said of the years before his diagnosis. “I lost three brothers in seven years.” He was finally diagnosed three years ago, after being introduced to Lookout Mountain Community Services by one of the rehab facilities he would check himself into when need be.

Now, he is fine-tuning his medications and participating in the supported employment program offered through Cornerstone. He hopes to be offered a job in the near future. Not only that, but he now has his own apartment, which is a huge boost for stability and self-esteem for anyone who has been through a situation such as his.

“It’s just nice to have somewhere to put your head at night,” he said.

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