The ninth annual SERV Recovery NJ Conference saw a record number of attendees on April 16, as nearly 430 consumers, family members, invited outside healthcare professionals and SERV staff gathered at The Pines Manor in Edison for a day of wellness and recovery workshops, sumptuous food, and a keynote presentation by The Mental Health Players.
The event -- planned and executed by staff and consumers alike -- began with a continental breakfast buffet. President/CEO Gary van Nostrand gave the welcoming address, during which he took the opportunity to stress the health and financial benefits for people who quit smoking and encouraged all consumers to try.
Consumers, family members and healthcare professionals had the opportunity to choose two out of 10 hour-long workshops, led by SERV staff or representatives from outside agencies. The first set of workshops included “Nutrition/Cooking,” led by Director of Facilities Mark Dombroski, where attendees learned how to make healthy fruit smoothies; “Living a Healthier Life,” in which consumers shared about how they quit smoking or managed their diabetes; “Money Matters, led by SERV board member and banker Alice Giedekier; “Creative Expression,” where consumers talked about wellness through their artistic talents; and “Road to Independence,” in which residents from all levels, including graduates, related their experiences in SERV’s supportive housing.
The second round of workshops included “Medication and Recovery,” led Dr. Linda Gochfeld, Medical Director, and Patricia Delgado, Director of Nursing; “Look Good/Feel Great” for tips and demonstrations for a new look; a consumer panel called “Hobbies”; “Social Security Benefits,” led by Huntley Forester of NJ WINS; and Social Skills/Relationships,” in which Bernie Baugh, coordinator of Behavior Support Services for SERV Achievement Centers, taught individuals strengthening skills to sustain their relationships.
This year’s keynote was presented by The Mental Health Players, an educational program of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, which is based in Montclair and funded by the N.J. Division of Mental Health Services.
The ensemble, led by Sharon Curran, Director, presented two customized scenes relating to ongoing issues among residents in group living situations. One scene focused on female roommates respecting one another’s space and quiet time while the other dealt with the dilemma of a man whose roommate stopped taking prescribed medication and began presenting serious symptoms. After each scene was completed, Ms. Curran asked audience members to interact by helping to solve the problems depicted in plays.
A highlight at the end of the conference was the presentation of the Consumer Recovery Awards and the Staff Recovery Awards. Staff members and consumers are asked to nominate a consumer for his/her Recovery and Wellness accomplishments. These include, but are not limited to, hope, support, education/employment, personal responsibility, self-advocacy, personal growth, health related, and hobbies. The awards were presented to Thomas P., SERV Centers-Union; James C., Middlesex; Serina A., Hudson; Cynthia V., Passaic; Nathaniel M, Mercer; and Darlene H., SERV Achievement Centers. Each consumer received a certificate and a $100 gift card.
Likewise, consumers are asked to nominate a staff member who goes above and beyond in offering hope and support. Staff Recovery Awards were presented to Shaina Basile, SERV Achievement Centers; Ambrose Ekhelar, SERV Centers-Middlesex; Victoria Iannuzzelli, Hudson; Sonia Sequeria, Union; Danielle Pera, Passaic; and Latoya Jackson, Mercer. Staff winners received a framed certificate.
The Recovery NJ Conference received generous support from Gold Sponsor Janssen Pharmaceuticals and area businesses and individuals who donated money, goods and services in an effort to make the conference a success.