It was March 2020 when Naomi Treece, 68, found herself in isolation in hospital, awaiting the results of her COVID-19 test.
She had many symptoms of the virus, such as a cough and no taste or smell, and the doctors kept her in super-isolation. But after four days, his test came back negative. She had pneumonia and needed oxygen. It took her another week to get home.
Treece’s heartbreaking experience was made better by one simple fact: the human touch of virtual variety. As a member of the Glengary Academy – a non-profit center providing adults with mental health issues a professional community and education through training in areas such as cooking, design graphics, videography and hospitality – she found herself dependent on staff calls and Zoom meetings with coworkers. members to feel engaged and less alone. Just having something to prepare in the morning was enough to occupy his mind.
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“They really gave me a lifeline during the pandemic,” she said. “They broadened my field of knowledge.
Treece isn’t the only person turning to Glengary Academy for support during the pandemic. The Sarasota-based nonprofit has seen a 120% increase in registrations since last year, according to director William McKeever, and has registered 22 new members in the past six months. The number of visits has tripled since last year.
“People with pre-existing or newly diagnosed mental health issues are eager to seek services,” McKeever said. “It’s like the prolonged isolation of the pandemic is a wake-up call and people realize, ‘Hey, I have to do something about this,’ then started to take the initiative to look for solutions. “
The pandemic has also fostered a sense of solidarity around mental health, a feeling that most of us are struggling in one way or another and that it is normal to need help.
“In a usual way, the pandemic has made it possible to seek help,” McKeever said.
For members who use the Academy for professional support and community, the pandemic has made their time there even more essential. Longtime member Paul Hennekes, 54, returned to the facility in person as soon as he could after the onset of COVID-19.
When Hennekes started working with the Academy, he had been hospitalized three times in four years. He worked in accounting, but his continued mental health issues made it difficult for him to keep his very stressful job.
“I was CFO for private companies, but the anxiety would eventually create the mania and I would end up being hospitalized,” he said. “I decided to stop working.
He visited Glengary Academy about a year after the center opened. It was sort of a fluke, as they actually needed help with the bookkeeping. This was Hennekes’ area of expertise.
“We try to build on the strengths of the members. Everyone has different strengths whether or not they have a mental illness, ”Hennekes said. “Mine just happens to be in accounting, so we use that. ”
During the pandemic, Hennekes found the little accounting work he had to do gratifying. Just as Treece relished the structure and company of a virtual routine, he wanted to experience that sense of productivity and movement.
“It helped me feel like I was accomplishing something,” he said.
And for Chantel Gingerich, 43, a member almost since the start of the non-profit association in June 2017, the academy is a respite from reality. She lost her job when the pandemic started, so most of her time was spent locked up at home with her mother. After the academy reopened, she came three days a week.
Gingerich now works as a bagger at Publix. But she still comes to the academy at least once a week to use their graphic design center. His work is on sale in the hall of the academy.
“[My anxiety] comes and goes, ”she said. “My mom says my attitude is better when I’m working. When I am here I have friendship and I know this is a place I can go that will not lower my handicap or make fun of me. I can be myself.
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of the Patterson Foundation and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire and engage the community to take action on issues related to the COVID-19 response.