If you watched the Middletown Legends 4-Mile road race on Sunday, April 24, it’s likely that you saw at least one participant sporting a bright blue t-shirt. Those running in blue represented Team Gilead—running on the behalf of Gilead Community Services—who had hit the streets to raise public awareness about mental illness. Before the race started, The Argus visited Team Gilead at the First Church of Christ in Middletown to hear from volunteers, staff members, and clients participating in the race.
Gilead CEO Dan Osborne described Gilead’s role in the community.
“We serve between six and seven hundred people a year in Middlesex County,” Osborne said. “We have several programs in Middletown. We also have programs as far down as Old Saybrook, with programs in Clinton, Chester, Cromwell, Portland, so we’re fairly well spread out throughout the county.”
Gilead provides housing, support services, and medical treatment to individuals dealing with mental illness. The organization strives to improve the mental and physical well-being of their clients, help them to gain independence, and give them a voice in the community.
“For me it’s really about helping people who don’t have a voice in the world, and helping them gain their voice,” Osborne said. “I care a lot about people who’ve been overlooked.”
Gilead’s Administrative Coordinator Stephanie Lippmann said that Gilead decided to do the Middletown Legends road race last year.
“We asked staff ‘what would you like to do, what do you think would be good to get community members involved in Gilead and to educate people about what we do and who we are?’” Lippmann said. “And everyone had thought a road race would be a great idea.”
She added that the race was appealing because of the opportunity to make personal connections.
“We do flyers, newsletters, all that, but it is more effective to do things face to face,” Lippmann said. “It’s more memorable.”
Gilead’s Director of Development and Public Education Lucy McMillan said that the team had set four goals for the road race, all of which were achieved and exceeded.
“Our first goal was to raise awareness about mental illness and how many people are impacted,” McMillan said.
The back of the team’s T-shirts broadcast the high percentage of adults dealing with a mental illness. In large white letters, the shirts read, “1 in 5 adults living in America experience a mental illness.” The front of the shirts read, “Run for every1.” With about 200 team members wearing the shirts, their message was hard to overlook.
Osborne addressed the arbitrary nature of mental illness and the discrimination that this large population faces.
“I could just as easily have a mental illness as another person,” Osborne said. “The fact that they’re not often afforded the rights and the privileges that the rest of us are is something that bothers me quite a bit.”
The second goal was to build up Team Gilead.
“Our second goal was to get a team of at least 200 people including staff, clients, and community members to work and walk/run together to help others see how we are all one community of people all deserving respect,” McMillan said.
In total Team Gilead was about 200 people strong. Over 90 clients were joined by staff and community members. The large and united team worked together to break the stereotypes that exclude people with a mental illness from their community.
A client at Gilead, Jessica Miller, described how stigma has affected her.
“The stigma is very overwhelming for mental illness,” Miller said. “I think people always assume that you’re going to be violent. It really disturbs me. I’m totally discriminated against and it’s not fair.”
Osborne discussed the disparity she sees in how physical and mental ailments are treated.
“We always say that if you find out that your loved one or a friend has cancer, we usually all band around that person, maybe you bake a casserole and support them,” Osborne said. “But with a mental illness it tends to be the opposite. People don’t know what to do, and not because people are bad people, they just don’t know what to do and it’s uncomfortable.”
Lippmann said that imagining what it is like to live with a mental illness can help to break down the stigma.
“It’s kind of like they’re trapped inside, they hear voices, they are depressed, it’s hard to understand what they’re going through,” she said. “But it’s a struggle for them every day, so as much as we can do for them is awesome.”
Team Gilead’s third goal, to fundraise $10,000, was matched and nearly doubled. All of the money raised will help fund quality mental health services for individuals throughout Middlesex County.
A few of Gilead’s clients described how the organization’s services have helped them.
Brian McDonough said that he is grateful for the independence that Gilead has helped him to achieve.
“They’ve given me the opportunity to be independent and to have housing in the community,” Mcdonough said. “And if there’s any trouble they support me.”
Despite a sprained ankle, McDonough wanted to participate in the event because he was so grateful for all that Gilead has done for him.
“I’m only a week in healing,” he said. “But I’m going to do my best. It’s a big challenge, but they bought me these brand new sneakers for the event and I felt like they were supportive of me so I should participate.”
Miller said that Gilead had been a great help for her as well.
“Gilead is just wonderful, and they’ve given me so much I want to give back to them,” Miller said.
Jeff, who is also a client, enjoys the activities that Gilead provides.
“They’ve provided a lot of help and assistance and they have activities that they allow us to do,” he said. “Some of the activities are bowling and softball, and it was Earth Day on Friday so we celebrated all day.”
Jen Donahue, the senior social rehab counselor at the Gateway Community Treatment Program, which is part of Gilead, described some more of the services there.
“We have three different programs at Gateway,” Donahue said. “We have the CSPRP program which is a community service program. We also have an outpatient clinic inside the program, and then we have a social rehab center. So we do case management, we do advocacy, we prescribe meds there, we do individual therapy, group therapy, and then social rehab events which is more towards vocational work, just quality of life.”
The team’s fourth goal was to improve the overall wellness of their clients.
“The final goal was to create a wellness initiative for the individuals we serve at Gilead and staff,” McMillan said.
The team worked hard to prepare for the race. Some Gilead clients and staff walked at the University’s indoor track every Tuesday and Thursday for the last four months, while other clients from Gateway exercised at the YMCA on the shoreline. A client named Hazel rode her bike in addition to walking. The clients who spoke with The Argus enjoyed the challenges and rewards of the training.
McMillan said that training together helped build anticipation for race day.
“[Training together] created a lot of team spirit and enthusiasm around this day which was witnessed by the success of so many,” she said.
Team Gilead overwhelmingly achieved all of their goals at the Middletown Legends road race and look forward to doing the race again.
“Team Gilead has something to be proud of,” McMillan said. “Absolutely Team Gilead will be back next year.”