NAMI - Athens, An Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Ohio




Ridges Cemeteries Project Inspires Work Elsewhere

An Ohio Department of Mental Health official's visit to Athens helps motivate Columbus' Twin Valley Behavioral Health Center to launch its own reclamation project


The story below  is from Franklin County's Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Board's (ADAMH)  Newsletter,  ADAMH eNews, the Aug 2009 issue.


Twin Valley Behavioral Health Center's

Cemetery Reclamation Project

Dignity can be afforded even in the afterlife, often through cemetery reclamation, which is the process of restoring forgotten grave sites. Twin Valley Behavioral Health (TVBH) Center began its own cemetery reclamation project on July 7 with their Memorial Stone Dedication Ceremony. The ceremony was held at the largest of three graveyards on TVBH's property. Over a thousand deceased residents are buried at the location.

Chief Executive Officer of TVBH, Bob Short, began the ceremony and was followed by Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH) Director, Sandra Stephenson. Cemetery reclamation became a passion for Stephenson after she visited cemeteries in Athens, near the former location of the state psychiatric hospital. Those graveyards have been improved to include inviting nature trails and informational signage.

During her Athens trip, Stephenson saw the welcoming environment and learned of several family members who have located deceased relatives, replaced their numbered stones with proper headstones, and visit to pay their respects. "That started my very emotional experience with cemetery reclamation," said Stephenson, who recounted the story of a young girl named Viola. Stephenson keeps a picture of Viola to remind her of the story of a patient from long ago who deserves to be remembered.

Stephenson added that she was not worried about lack of funding halting the project because it is volunteer-based. TVBH Director of Volunteer Services Maureen Fahy and TVBH Chief Operations Officer David Blahnik are spearheading the organizing efforts in the reclamation process for the three TVBH cemetery sites.

Brandon Lofton, a Bishop Hartley High School junior, also will participate in the reclamation effort. Lofton is taking part in the effort for his Eagle Scout Service project.

Several small stones have no names, but a string of numbers. Lofton has volunteered to clean these gravestones and catalog the numbers with names in hospital records to give an identity to those who are gone but not forgotten.

"Lofton's renaming project fits with our ultimate goal to recognize the courage of past state hospital residents who lived with mental illness and inspired future understanding," said Short. "We can provide proper identification of the cemeteries and honor them as sacred grounds."

ADAMH Medical Director, Dr. Kathy Burns also attended the ceremony. She added, "The deceased residents are getting the respect they deserve. Even after death, we can find a way to honor their lives."



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