By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk (D-46th) visited Liberty Enterprise's day support building, the Montgomery County chapter of New York State ARC, Thursday afternoon to tour the building and meet staff members. Liberty is the largest facility in the county that serves people who have developmental disabilities.
Community mental health needs are at a historic high, though funding has been funneled into the General Fund for ten of the last 20 years. Having recognized a need to address the lack of funds, Tkaczyk, who is on the Mental Health Committee, jointly introduced legislation with chair of the Mental Health Committee Assemblyman Aileen Gunther to do just that.
According to a news release, the measure would collaborate with the NYS Office of Mental Health and would ensure its proposed transition of psychiatric centers to regional hospitals is accompanied by a thorough plan, adequate funding and the proper community-based services.
"She's been very supportive, especially during the budget session," said Chief Executive Officer Michael Decker. "We were in a very critical situation here with the state budget. There were some substantial funding cuts that were slated in this year's budget. She, along with a number of her colleagues, came forth for the individuals we serve and said strongly that these cuts are going to impact the lives of the individuals we're all so committed to."
Most cuts, Decker said, were restored, though they're still working on some smaller funding streams.
Decker and other representatives of the facility toured Tkaczyk through several rooms that showcase exactly what the funding provides. Members of the art program, in which about two dozen are involved, presented Tkaczyk with a thank you painting they all helped to create. Tkaczyk said she would hang it in her new Amsterdam office in the Rivercenter.
Members of the day program are also very active in the community, having completed more than 34,000 volunteer hours last year. They participate in organizations like Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army and work with the Office of the Aging.
"Sometimes people don't give them enough credit," said Candy Opalka, Chief Operating Officer. "It gives them a sense of meaning. They're very proud of themselves. It's great."
Some members within the facility also constructed a self-advocacy group. When budget cuts were threatened, the group went to Albany and lobbied.
"It made a difference," Tkaczyk told the group. "It made a difference because parts of the budget were restored."
One member of the self-advocacy group asked if the senator's job ever gets stressful.
"What stresses me is when they start looking at cutting programs who matter to those who don't have a voice and don't have the capacity to be there (to advocate.) Right now, we're not in session from June to January ... but when we go back, I'll remember what you all have told me."
After a slight pause, Heather Putrell, a day member of the facility who has cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, asked the senator: "Do you have any questions for me?"
Everyone's attention directed toward Tkaczyk.
"How do you like it here at Liberty?" Tkaczyk asked.
"It's like a home away from home," Putrell said, smiling.