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Published: Wednesday, 7/28/2004

Building to be base for aid, education

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The dedication of a new facility last week signaled a beginning for the Consumers Union of Lucas County, an agency dedicated to improving the quality of life for the mentally ill.

The $600,000 building at 208 West Woodruff Ave. near the Toledo Uptown area has not been without its detractors, but Executive Director Kelly Skinner said she hopes it helps give the public a better perception of the mentally ill.

The Consumers Union, which is funded by the Lucas County Mental Health Board, is an agency run by the mentally ill and performs peer educational and social activities and advocates on behalf of its peers. Jackie Martin, executive director of the mental health board, said the facility is a testament to Ms. Skinner and her staff's effort to uplift its members.

Last week, Michael Hogan, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health, joined Ms. Skinner, Ms. Martin and other community leaders in dedicating the new building. The facility was officially named Thomas M. Wernert Center for Mental Health Recovery and Support, Ms. Skinner said.

The late Mr. Wernert was the mental health board's executive director for over 26 years before his passing in 1999 and was an advocate of the Consumers Union, Ms. Skinner said.

The 4,650-square-foot drop-in center includes classrooms, a computer lab, kitchen, a club and social rooms. It also includes two showers and a laundry area.

"There really is a sense of family," Ms. Skinner said. "A lot of our members think of us as a family because of the stigma around mental illness.

"Some are separated from their own family members," Ms. Skinner added. "I think they are going to take a lot of pride and ownership here."

The new building allowed the Consumers Union to move out of leased space from the Rescue Mental Health Services at 3350 Collingwood Blvd.

The building was paid for by the Ohio Department of Mental Health, the Lucas County Mental Health Board and a bank loan, Ms. Skinner said.

She said the new facility gives the Consumers Union much-needed room for programming and activities.

"This is a much better place for us to be," she said. "People [with mental illness] tend to isolate themselves. We try to eliminate that isolation with activities, art classes and programs. We provide peer mentoring and peer support. Until you walk down the road of mental illness, you don't know what it's like to live with it."

Bill Rixey, the executive director of the Warren-Sherman Area Council, said he has been impressed with what the Consumers Union has done to the block.It is certainly a better building than what was there before," he said.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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