Heartfelt thanks for treatment center volunteers

David M. is an addict with depression issues. Years ago he learned to manage his addiction and his depression and wanted to give back. And so he began volunteering at treatment centers around the Twin Cities; for the past couple of years he’s dedicated countless hours to clients at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center.

Joan Blaska shakes hands with her dog Brewster, a trained and certified animal assisted therapy dog who volunteers at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. Photo by Sue Austreng

Joan Blaska shakes hands with her dog Brewster, a trained and certified animal assisted therapy dog who volunteers at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. Photo by Sue Austreng

Marge Davidson loves birthdays and she loves baking and so she bakes birthday cakes for clients at the treatment center.

Toddy and Dori are Labrador retrievers, Brewster is a Labradoodle, Freddie, Happy and Gracie are dogs of a different sort. All have been trained and certified as animal assisted therapy dogs who provide unconditional love and unlimited patience to treatment center clients.

Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. Their lives have led them on some incredible journeys and ultimately prepared them to provide hope and encouragement to other travelers along life’s way.

On July 11 Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center clients and staff expressed their heartfelt appreciation to volunteers, toasting them with lemonade and coffee, sharing slices of cake and presenting tokens of thanks.

“Without your dedication – and the caring people you are who give so much of yourselves to improve the lives of our patients – we couldn’t do what we do here,” Treatment Center Administrator Nancy Webster-Smith said to volunteers gathered in the gymnasium for the recognition event.

Volunteering is good for your heart, she told them.

“But you probably already knew that,” Webster-Smith said.

In fact, many volunteers said that volunteering truly does give something back.

Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center clients made huge thank you cards for volunteers, expressing their gratitude with color and creativity. Photo by Sue Austreng

Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center clients made huge thank you cards for volunteers, expressing their gratitude with color and creativity. Photo by Sue Austreng

“I get a lot out of it, too. It means a lot for me to come out here – it’s cleansing,” said David M. (last name not used in order to protect his privacy).

Toddy and Dori’s humans, Clare and Donna Grendler, said bringing their dogs to the treatment center is a gift for them as much as it is for the clients.

And Marge, the birthday cake baker, said she and others at Anoka Covenant Church have been baking birthday cakes since 1982.

“We just love to do it and knowing how much it means to them makes it even more special for us,” she said.

One of the clients present for the July 11 appreciation event told the volunteers, “I know I’m doing OK and it’s because of all you do and I thank you for everything you do.”

More than 80 volunteers put in roughly 70-85 hours per week at the treatment center.

Those volunteers donate their time and energy in all sorts of ways, including through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, Dual Recovery Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Hearing Voices Network, the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center Auxiliary, Animal Assisted Therapy, faith-based and spiritual services and birthday cake bakers.

Liz Friday, clinical program manager and consumer representative at the treatment center, expressed her appreciation to the volunteers.

“Every single day I am so thankful for our volunteers,” she said. “You’ve taught me what it means to have a good heart. You make our programs work and I truly thank you from my heart.”

Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center

Located on Seventh Avenue in Anoka, the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center serves people who are mentally ill in a large, campus-based setting.

The treatment center is one of the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ state operated services. Treatment is delivered by maximizing the prevailing clinical and organizational practice models, as stated in literature distributed by the department.

Many of the clients at the treatment center have complex medical histories. Services include units dedicated to the treatment of psychiatric patients with complex co-morbid medical conditions, treatment of individuals with mental illness who face a criminal trial and patients with high levels of behavioral issues.

Director of Social Work Tona Willand said, “We provide a safety net of services for people whose needs are not met otherwise, who are not able to be served in traditional mental health facilities.”

There are currently 108 clients living at the treatment center with another 65 people on the waiting list.

The inpatient treatment center campus opened in the late 1990s replacing the former treatment center once known as the Anoka State Hospital on Fourth Avenue in Anoka. Clients stay an average of 90 days, Willand said.

Clients arrive at the treatment center by court-ordered commitment for mental health, chemical dependency and/or intellectual disability.

Professional staff serving clients include physicians and physician assistants, psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed social workers, nurses, dieticians, human services technicians and occupational therapists.

Volunteers supplement the programs and services provided at the treatment center and also provide opportunities for patients to connect with people outside the facility, which can help them get ready to transition back to their home communities.

To learn more about the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center or to volunteer your time there, visit www.dhs.state.mn.us.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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