MHAMC Annual Dinner Speech By Lou Schwarcz: September 20, 2011

Welcome again to the MHAMC annual dinner. We appreciate the support of all of you and what you contribute to our community.

We are gathered here today in solidarity, as MHAMC staff, volunteers, board members, and community supporters, to honor the mission, values, and ideals of the Mental Health Association of Morris County.

MHAMC is a community trust, and all of us here tonight are stewards of that trust. This agency does not belong to any one individual, but rather it is owned by all of us. As stewards of this community trust, it is our charge to honor the institution, and to follow its guiding principles.

Being a steward of MHAMC means spreading the promise that we hold most dear and true, that people with mental illness do not have to live in the margins of society, in psychiatric units, shelters, jails or on the streets of this county, but rather can have complete lives, including having a job, a family, a home, and all the benefits of this great society.

Our promise to the community is that we bring a hopeful message, with faith in recovery and kindness to those afflicted with the terror of mental illness.
We aim in this mission to assist people in completing job applications before disability applications, to believe in recovery even when the opinions of other professionals point to a hopeless prognosis, and to sustain wellness for the afflicted even in a society that often does not value the people at its periphery.
We try to assist people with mental illness to take medicine even when they don’t see the benefit of this medicine, and we teach them to tolerate physical side effects rather than risk the trauma of uncontained mental illness. In other words, we teach people to make the difficult choice of tolerating fatigue, hand tremors, weight gain, heat intolerance, and higher risk of neurological conditions for the greater cause of their emotional health. This is a difficult choice for consumers, but we stand behind them in understanding the challenge and helping them face that challenge.

We try to assist people who have mental illness and are homeless to find treatment and housing, even when they have given up hope of living under a roof. We help the homeless even when they have accommodated to life in the public square, when they have internalized the humiliation of pan handling or grooming themselves in public mirrors, or when they have taken it as a given fact that they will no longer be accepted into their home communities or even often their own families. We connect them to services and resources, we often offer family reunification, and we always provide them with dignity.

Dignity, after all, is the one immeasurable gift that no public institution can measure with numbers and contract stipulations, but that is the greatest gift one can give to a person on whom society has given up, and who is struggling with their basic grip on reality.

We are here tonight to honor the promise of MHAMC, that every person who comes to our agency will be treated with dignity and respect, including all who come to us for assistance, and also including our staff, board and volunteers. MHAMC must be a haven where kindness dwells, even in a society in which it often does not. As our society often seems to be breaking apart in front of our eyes, and our hope and confidence as a society is constantly bombarded by news of war, poverty, natural disasters, and public rancor, it is MHAMC staff and board that on a daily basis counter the negative framing of our world by providing kind hearted services to all who are served by our institution.

We know tonight that our society is going through tremendous changes, many of them painful and difficult. As CEO I am here to tell you, unfortunately, that our challenges in the years ahead will not diminish, but will rather increase. As our state and federal governmental budgets continue to cut back in order to deal with public debt, our MHAMC budget, strongly reliant on public dollars, will be tighter. We will have to be leaner and more efficient as a result. With public health care reform, our fundamental infrastructure will be changed, and that will mean a greater scrutiny and pressure on every dollar we bill, and every dollar we raise. We will thus need to improve our records systems, our contract compliance, and our work intensity. We also will need to appeal with greater fervor to the private sector for funding and program support, even as this same private sector struggles also with economic downturn.

This being true, however, we stand strong now, and we will continue to stand strong. We stand strong because we serve a higher cause that is noble and worthy. I believe that as long as we embody this cause, the broader community will support us in turn, and we will succeed both in our mission and in our survival as an agency.


All of us here tonight, as stewards of MHAMC, are the agents of this higher cause.


Thanks for coming, and please enjoy the rest of the night.