Round Valley Home Offers Hope To Mentally Ill

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Every day, a family of 10 in Round Valley wakes up at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. and has breakfast. They take turns cleaning up, depending on whose week it is. After, everyone discusses their feelings and what they want to accomplish that day.

Communication is key in the Round Valley residential home. Without it, the mentally ill adults living there wouldn't make nearly as much progress. They wouldn't be able to deal with their feelings and they wouldn't be able to, one day, move out on their own.

Round Valley Residential accepts mentally ill adults who want to improve their condition and work on life skills. Although the average amount of time spent in the house is two years, it is different for everyone.

The one guideline that applies to all, director Jeff Gray said, is that the home is not forever. It's only a step, and for some, it's a scary step; for others, it's thrilling.

One man, "John," is schizophrenic and lived alone for years before he moved to Round Valley Residential.

"It's great to live with people," he said. "It was lonely to live by myself. I really didn't like it. Here, there are always people to talk to me. I like everybody here."

That's what John says on a good day. On a bad day, he doesn't feel liked or trustful of his surroundings. Every day is different, and every day a committed staff of nearly 10 tries to help. They've got a lot of energy, and seem generally happy with their jobs.

"You have to want to be here," Yvonne Mills, a team leader, said. "You have to believe in what you're doing and be willing to spend a lot of one-on-one time with clients, if that's what they need."

Mills and her staff have fun with the clients. There is a feeling of playfulness and a buzz of movement and life pervading the big, homey house and its large lawn. From the inside, it's a loving place with good humor and the push to better one's self.

"There's still a real stigma and unfounded fear about mental illness," Gray said. "Anybody who's different runs the risk of people shunning them, or worse.

"I don't think the mentally ill get hunted down and tortured anymore there's more tolerance, but it's still not always a good situation."

Gray, his staff and clients sometimes bear the brunt of that negative stigma from people suffering from the "not in my backyard" attitude.

Gray said the mentally ill are often swept under the rug and, while most people know the mentally ill need help, they don't want that help offered in their town, or neighborhood.

But, all of that is changing.

"For years, Arizona has been at the bottom of mental health funding," Gray said, "But now, we're finally getting more money and support."

He said that House Bill 2003 resulted in $21 million for the mentally ill. It couldn't have come at a better time, because the counseling community is focusing more on recovery than ever before, and needs financial help to fund its new programs.

"It varies, but at times there has been a tremendous shortage (in funds). I think this will help," he said.

The clients are typically recommended through Rim Guidance Center, a counseling center where the motto is, "Helping people who help themselves."

Mills said the desire to improve is the most important attribute a client can have.

"They're pretty high functioning," she said. "They're not here because they need to be locked up. They're here because they want more freedom and independence."

Round Valley Residential clients suffer from any range of mental illnesses from severe depression, to bi-polar disorders or schizophrenic.

The staff recommends clients stay in the home for at least six months to learn vital life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, and emotion management.

The schedule is consistent, with set meal times and counseling groups every day, but the clients are given free time and individual plans.

John likes to visit the ducks at a nearby pond during his free time. Other clients like to read, listen to music, socialize or watch television. These activities make the house feel like a home, and most of the time, the residents feel like a family.

"We really notice when somebody leaves to go onto the next phase in their life," Mills said. "Some of the clients get upset, and we have to deal with it in our group sessions or individually. We always get over it, but for awhile, you really do feel the absence."

Clients can quit the program at any time, but staff members encourage them to stay until they have learned the basics of meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. They are also taught banking skills, responsible administration of medication, and how to be self-sufficient.

Gray gets happy when he thinks about clients' graduation from the home.

"It's exciting," he said. "Jeez, I get all choked up. It's cool and significant. I love it when a good plan comes together.

"... Sometimes they make it. Other times it doesn't work. When it does though, and you feel good about the role that person is going to play in society, it's a real good feeling."

Gray has run 10 similar homes in the Valley, and said the Round Valley home should be just as successful.

Everything is up to code and it's working the way it should, he said. The house has only been open since March, but Gray and the staff feel confident that it will only get better.

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