Posted in Creative Writing, JF&CS, Published Work

Daniel’s Story

Written for JF&CS of Atlanta


He first entered Independence Works silent and shy. As a new client, Daniel spoke on occasion at most, and volunteers had come to believe that he was almost nonverbal. Daniel’s uprooted scheduled had changed entirely from the dependable school class list with familiar faces to up in the air. The teachers and students he had grown so used to seeing every day weren’t coming back. Independence Works is used to cases like this, but that doesn’t make the individual experience less worrisome to go through.  Many volunteers contributed their time to try and get to know Daniel, and after a year of attending IW every weekday, a new young man sprouted in his place.

 

Special Education programs allowed Daniel to stay in his high school all the way to twenty-three. While most people experience leaving high school behind at some point, everyone gets a little worried. It’s no different for Daniel – he wasn’t nonverbal, just shy.

 

With his comfort taken into IW’s care, Daniel began to blossom. Instead of standing in the corners, he’s taken center stage, with an almost literal sense of being. Daniel is a delight. He’s known as musical: he’ll turn anything and everything available into a microphone, going into the offices and displaying his singing talents for the volunteers. If you turn on Queen, he’ll sing for you. One of the delights of working and volunteering at Independence Works is seeing the reserved and nervous come forward with new and bright personalities, getting to know each person as the individuals they are. He’s a passionate volunteer with several programs, his favorites being the ones that help the animals in and around Atlanta.

 

“Daniel is so happy in the IndependenceWorks Program.  He always tells us what he did, and the activities are great.  He went to the Cowboy museum last week and continues to discuss. His vocabulary has increased, and his social skills are improving.  It is a wonderful program, and we feel lucky to have received the NOW waiver so he may attend on a daily basis.”

Daniel’s Mother

Recently, Daniel has started to utilize the Jets Program; this allows him to get to and from IndependenceWorks with more ease. From there, he goes to the Atlanta Zoo or FurKids. He’s passionate about the cats and socializes well with them as much as he can. He can talk night and day about Komodo dragons and other cool creatures he’s found at the zoo. If he’s not traveling, then he’s in art class and can be found with some ease making a Mickey Mouse out of clay. He always gets excited when its time for music therapy. There’s a humorous side that has begun to form from Daniel. He’ll quote a dozen movies or Queen. While he can be difficult to understand at times, he’s high functioning and creative.

 

With his social growth over the last six months, IW has even put forth the idea that he could enter the workforce with some care. It’s an exciting time for the family, and finding IW Has been an aid. As is, IndependenceWorks is happy to continue seeing Daniel and his family each weekday.

Posted in Creative Writing, JF&CS, Published Work, Uncategorized

Stories of a Mother, a Son, and a Father

Written for JF&CS of Atlanta


One of the hardest things to learn about addiction is that people cannot just stop. Like with many mental illnesses, most people who suffer from chronic situations have to hit rock bottom before they can ask for help or even admit to themselves that they need it. Without the crash, they say it’s manageable, it’s okay, it’s just how things are. The people who work at HAMSA know this all too well, with an endless list of examples. People can be too stubborn, or too attached. People can be, quite simply, too complicated.

 

A woman called HAMSA because she was worried about her mother: the mother, hereon referred to as Jane Doe, was living in a Jewish community center for older adults, though for the most part, she was independent. Doe had overdosed several times but refused treatment all the while. She refused to talk about it, no matter how many times her daughter had tried to bring up her addictions. It was complicated: Doe was in pain, chronic pain, and had the prescriptions for a reason. At the same time, addiction has its consequences. Desperate for her mother and worried for her health, the daughter called HAMSA, hoping the program could do something. After HAMSA filed a complaint with Older Adult Services, the police were called for a wellness check. This, perhaps, was a rock bottom for Doe – her daughter claimed that Jane Doe was infuriated to see police at her door, embarrassed as well. The visit had scared her enough to ask for therapist through Aviv. Not for her addiction, but she wanted to see a therapist. Jane Doe’s story became a group effort between HAMSA and Aviv, as she began to see her first therapist in quite some time. After several months of tough work with her clinician, Jane Doe had a breakthrough and admitted she had a problem with addiction. Finally, after years of her daughter’s worry, she was ready to open up and face the addiction head-on.

 

While Jane Doe had her daughter’s worry become the catalyst of her health, it’s reasonably often that the other way around happens as well. It wasn’t too long ago that a man called HAMSA when he was worried about his son. The son had left home for work in Colorado. He was alone, away from family and friends, and seemed to develop an addiction to opioids. The family rabbi suggested to the father that he call HAMSA as he planned to travel to Colorado and bring his son home, safe and sound.

 

That’s not always how it works out. Addiction is dangerous, and while the son came clean for the drive home, the risk of overdose increases after a detox. It didn’t help when the son admitted to HAMSA that he also had used heroin. For the drive home, HAMSA was able to train the father with NARCAN, a tool used to treat an overdose. While NARCAN is a lifesaving treatment, it takes training and it isn’t perfect. It is tough to imagine the man struggling to prepare for such a drive while being told his son might die either way, that he might need to use this medication to save his son’s life. The son was lucky. Not only did he make it home, but his father was so willing to care for him. HAMSA found the family a place with MARR (Metro Atlanta Recovery Residence) and connected the son with a Sober Buddy. With HAMSA’s help, they were even able to get scholarship funding to stay with MARR, with the rest covered by a JIFLA loan. For the past five months, the son has been in treatment and he is working to a healthier future with his father.

 

These family stories have long been important to HAMSA. There are plenty of times that family calls on behalf of a loved one – someone who hasn’t admitted that they need help or that they have a problem. There are so many people asking for help because they wonder how to talk to their brothers and sisters, how to tell them to get help and that they have an addiction. These cases always show that no one is alone when it comes to addiction. The examples of someone who has yet to have been told by family or friends are still a rarity.

 

When John Doe was told by his boss to get help, they were both in very safe and dependable positions in their lives, until addiction got in the way. John Doe was a thriving Jewish man in the media sphere; he held a high-profile position in production. He even had a young son, so much that the boy had yet to leave elementary school. With his job at stake, he saw his young son’s life at stake. The first thoughts anyone has when it comes to a child is their safety – if his addiction worsened, he could lose his job and then eventually his custody. On the other hand, John Doe couldn’t take care of his child if he went into treatment.

 

While John Doe admitted that yes, he did need help, he had no idea what kind. HAMSA directed him to a therapist that could help figure this out, a step they are familiar with executing. John Doe settled into Intensive Outpatient Care, which allowed him to keep taking care of his son and himself at the same time, while displaying his functionality. He went to therapy in the morning, and went home every afternoon to care for his child. John Doe even exclaimed that the place HAMSA chose for him was the perfect placement, and he wouldn’t have improved so well in any other situation. While he will probably in IOC through the rest of January, HAMSA has allowed John Doe to get himself back on track but face his illness and keep taking care of his son in a way many programs would not have allowed.

 

The epidemic of addiction in American populations creates a sense of shame. Many people don’t want to admit what has happened, that they fell to addiction or that they need help. HAMSA’s goal is not only to combat this but to be a place of safety and shelter with the tools of recovery easily in reach. HAMSA wants to help people navigate recovery with the right resources and clinicians so that the addicted population of Atlanta can reach for a better life.

Posted in Creative Writing, JF&CS, Published Work

Harry’s Story

Written for JF&CS of Atlanta


 

He looked to be at the top of the world. When he tells his story, everything he has done and accomplished, Harry tells the story of a man of success. As a Hollywood marketer, Harry could name drop many celebrities from his time at the heart of L.A. He told the stories of the movies, describing the best way to show the world what he did, what they should see, why they would like it best. He left his home in the Morningside area of Atlanta, Georgia over 60 years ago and did not look back until 2018.  He attended Yale University then after some time in New York, he set out to L.A. to make it in Hollywood advertising blockbusters including Sophie’s Choice and Forrest Gump.

 

Things change. The Hollywood marketer and publicist felt the tailspin. For Harry, financial stress marked by not getting paid for his work set in. For the man who “always landed on his feet,” he worried how he was going to land this time now at age 80. The deterioration of his life that he knew led to what he called the “darkest days.”

 

Harry felt alone. His depression was sincere, and while he never was successful, his mental state led to attempts on his life while he saw no way out. Jewish Family and Career Services did.

 

Harry is a charismatic, hopeful man who never meets a stranger. Even before his move to Atlanta, his belief in the work of social services like JF&CS was tangible because of how much the JFCS LA helped him. He has even said of JFCS LA’s work that, “JFCS saved [his] life.”

 

From there, Harry finally came home to Atlanta. He sought therapy at JF&CS Atlanta and met Keryn. Harry felt truly comfortable, heard, and understood with Keryn and the staff at JF&CS.  Now cheerful and talkative, Harry claims that with Keryn’s help, he is the happiest that he has been in years. In addition to working with counseling, Harry worked with case management who helped him find housing of his own. Harry says what stands out about JF&CS is “They really listen.  They’re a community and they have the knowledge so they work together to help.” He has a positive energy that others have commented on while he is out and about to which he responded “JFCS!”

 

JF&CS cannot be prouder of everything that Harry has accomplished in the short amount of time he has been working with counseling and case management. With the leagues forward that he’s climbed and a big, hopeful smile, Harry has become an inspiration and a grand example that it is never too late to create the life you want.

 

Posted in Essay Style

Consider the Prosthetic

Stephen Davies still has his old prosthetic. He went for years without it, or without any prosthetic limb at all. It takes just a glance at his old prosthetic to know why – it’s disappointing, even unhelpful. A metal claw is scary to look at, and while wearing it, he has to manually twist clamps shut to pick something up with it.

 

This rudimentary prosthetic is only five years old. When it comes to medical care like prosthetics, he doesn’t have much of a choice. That is unless he plans to make his own limb.

Continue reading “Consider the Prosthetic”

Posted in AJT, Published Work

“Mental Illness is the Cancer of the Soul.”

The last thing one might expect when going to synagogue on a Sunday morning at ten is a rabbi carrying an embroidered New Orleans, Mardi Gras mask. And it’s not even Purim. Rabbi Analia Bortz of Or Hadash, where Baken ‘In the Nest’ began last Sunday held no punches when she took the Bimah before the first sessions of In the Nest. As Co-Founder with Devi Knapp (who told her touching story earlier in the morning), the doctor and Rabbi kept a steady hold over the room, proving what worth the mental health collective would have for the community.

 

“Mental illness is the cancer of the soul.” The Doctor and Rabbi said, each word crisp and clear. She took her time, recalling people, everyday people getting ready for job interviews who might put on a mask like the one she had in her hands. People with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses never take off these masks. They are stiff as a Mardi Gras mask, wooden and painful.

Continue reading ““Mental Illness is the Cancer of the Soul.””

Posted in AJT, Published Work

100-Year-Old Keeps Creating Beauty

Centenarian Doree Kemler creates figurines and acrylic paintings.

Centenarian Doree Kemler creates figurines and acrylic paintings.

There’s a hypnotic swirl of pastel that could swallow a viewer forever. In an epic wash of acrylic, it seems this woman is a master.

With the use of a beautiful, waving navy color washing into a soft, light purple, she has mixed impressionism, abstraction, surrealism and fantasy into “Fruits of Life,” an odd and beautiful shell design.

 

Continue reading “100-Year-Old Keeps Creating Beauty”