Imagine for a moment that your world is different than it is. Outside your home the world is often hostile, strange, or exhausting. Inside your home things aren’t always better, but at least it’s somewhat under your control. When you do go out, say to the grocery store, other shoppers look at you funny, the cashier is rude and she avoids touching you when you pay. You hear people whisper and laugh as you grab your bags and leave. Would it be so surprising if you didn’t want to go out as much anymore?
For many people living with severe mental illness, they don’t have to imagine a scenario like the one above. They can remember similar events they’ve experienced personally. The social isolation compounds the challenges they face in managing their mental health. It doesn’t necessarily follow that someone with a mental illness doesn’t like people or that they don’t want fun, but fun costs money and time and energy. When they go out into the community there is often an ever-present fear (sometimes justified) of not being accepted, or worse – being ridiculed.
Can you imagine what going to a baseball game by yourself would feel like, if you dealt with that level of stress, anxiety, and social isolation? Neither can I. The residents of North Coast Community Homes (NCCH) in Summit County don’t have to imagine it either, because they don’t have to go it alone.
It’s become an annual event: NCCH’s RubberDucks Outing. The Akron RubberDucks are a minor league baseball team. This year residents from NCCH’s Summit County homes came in on buses to enjoy box seating to watch the game in the club area of the stadium.
“I like the music. It’s really kickin’!” said Thomas, one of the residents. He and a friend were chatting, enjoying the emerging sun and listening to the pre-game band belt out Janis Joplin.
Before the event kicked off, there was a concern about how many residents might show up.
“I think it’s the weather. It’s been looking like rain all day,” explained Shannon Hill, one of the main organizers of the event. Thankfully, what started as overcast and gray turned into warm yellow sun spilling down across the field and warming smiles to almost every face.
The threat of rain didn’t stop residents, donors, board members, and friends of NCCH from coming out. Over 150 people all inclusive of residents of NCCH homes, board members, community members, staff and friends all came to the Canal Park Stadium to have a good time – and most importantly, ensure the residents were having a great time.
Everywhere you looked, even among those sitting quietly, people were enjoying themselves. Some came just for the food. No one could blame them.
No ball game would be complete without popcorn and pretzels, and there was plenty. The other traditional American fare of hotdogs and hamburgers was replaced by something a little fancier, however. Residents and guests enjoyed caesar salad, peppercorn crusted roast beef, rigatoni with fresh basil, macaroni and cheese, and delicious gourmet cookies.
“A lot of them were asking if they could have seconds and eat as much as they want,” said Pam, who was running the food service in the club house. “I told them, yes, but let’s make sure everyone gets through the line at least once first.”
She then went to different tables and let people know they could come back for more. Not that she needed to. NCCH staffperson, Tammy Duliba was going from table to table getting guests and residents more soda and making sure they had enough to eat. Her granddaughter, Hannah, helped with that and with handing out big purple foam fingers (a necessary staple for any big game event).
The game was an opportunity for everyone, residents, staff, care givers, board members, and donors, to experience the peace, comfort, and fun of a nice outing. But for the residents it was a really special day.
“I think the last time I came out here, they were the Aeros,” remarked Dale, one of NCCH’s residents.
He looked down and away as he explained that he had thought about coming last year, but didn’t. It seemed best not to ask why. I told him I was glad he came this year.
“I’m really glad I came out too. This was good. I hope they do it again next year,” he said.
Others had enjoyed the event for a few years. For them it’s become something to look forward to – one of the highlights of their year.
“This is a very important event for our residents,” said Rachel Telegdy, Chief Development Officer for NCCH. “We put a lot of hard work into it, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the gifts from our generous donors: Peg’s Foundation, OMNOVA Solutions Foundation, and the Maynard Family Foundation.”
NCCH staff made the rounds checking in on people and thanking the residents for coming. For the most part, the residents seemed to relish in the positive attention. It was an opportunity for something different.
I spent some time talking to a young lady in a green blouse and grey pants. Her name was Mary Beth. She had been sitting alone at a table on the patio outside. It gave a great view of the field, but Mary Beth was just sitting slumped over, head in hands staring down. Her face reflected something familiar…that feeling of being out of place, unsure, like when you worry you don’t belong. I asked if she had been to the event before, and she looked surprised that I was speaking to her. She explained she hadn’t.
During our conversation, she would move between a frenzy of words and ideas and then more mundane discussion about baseball in general, or her thoughts on poetry. When I finally got up to leave, she stopped me and smiled.
“Thank you for coming up and talking to me. Most people are afraid of me,” she said. “It means a lot.”
A bit later in the evening, I walked by and saw her again at the same table. She was sitting head up watching the game. She was smiling.