No Longer Alone Ministries celebrates 20 years

From left, Lowell and Ruth DetWeiler, Lois Ream and Brenda Long are seen at the No Longer Alone Ministries office at 630 Janet Ave. (Richard Hertzler / Staff)

No Longer Alone Ministries began in 1991 as a Christian support group for families facing mental illness.

Thirty-seven people met initially at Akron Mennonite Church.

Today, the nonprofit has offices at 630 Janet Ave., seven employees, about 40 volunteers and an annual budget of about $200,000.

Besides the support group, it now offers a number of other programs serving about 300 adult clients and their family members.

The NLAM Family Support Group -with the mission, "Building HOPE (Helping, Overcoming, Planning, Empowering), Sharing Stories" - will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a reunion at Lancaster Brethren in Christ Church, 1865 Fruitville Pike, from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 24.

Refreshments, including homemade ice cream, will be served.

"It began unexpectedly," said Ruth Detweiler, who at the time of the first meeting had recently had a family member diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Detweiler and her husband, Lowell, both 75 and members of Akron Mennonite, are the founding members of the support group.

"We were lost. We asked ourselves, 'How do we understand?' We talked to some other people who suggested families come together," she said.

"We immediately knew we were not alone. It was so reassuring to find other people experiencing the same things."

"From that first meeting to now," her husband said, "family support has been the main component of No Longer Alone Ministries."

The group meets from 3 to 5 p.m. on the fourth Sunday of the month at Lancaster BIC. The first hour features a speaker. For the second hour, people meet in small groups to share their concerns.

"It's been really important to share our stories and how things have been going for our loved ones in the past month and inviting suggestions," Mrs. Detweiler said.

"It's an up and down journey. It can boom, then bottom out. It can be so misunderstood by some people.

"We have tried over the years to erase the stigma. To look at it, rather than as a mental illness, as a physical illness - an illness of the brain."

Lois Ream, who also has a loved one with mental illness, is a current member of NLAM's support group.

"(It) has been a shelter and comforter when our churches have not understood the needs of our loved ones and our families," said Ream, 75, who formerly volunteered in the NLAM office and has served on its concert committee for about four years.

Brenda Long, NLAM executive director, said even when the person with mental illness refuses help, the ministry will work with the family.

Besides the Family Support Group, NLAM's other programs are:

• REACH (Recovery, Empowerment, Accountability, Courage, Hope), a mobile psychiatric rehabilitation program.

• WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Planning) classes for clients, and WRAP Reunion meetings for its graduates.

• Paths to Discovery, providing fellowship, encouragement and mutual support for those living with mental illness;

• Family counseling for families coping with mental illness.

• A speakers bureau, including nurses, counselors, a psychiatrist, pastors and a family living with mental illness.

• Circles of Care, a program to prepare church members to care for congregants with mental illnesses.

Long joined NLAM in 2003 as a clinical licensed social worker and continuing psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner and became director last year. She said the ministry is supported by private donations, grants and fund-raising events.

For more information, call 390-4891 or go to http://www.nlam.org/.

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