Paying it forward: Group sends cards to troops

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

BUSY HANDS ARE HAPPY HANDS — Instead of isolating themselves, clients at Tri-County Mental Health Services, Inc. Day Support Program got busy this fall making Christmas cards for service men and women stationed overseas. Seated, from left (no last names used) are Sue, Kim, Larry and Corey, with group facilitator Mary Ross standing behind them. (Geraghty Photo)

It’s said that a simple act of kindness can make all the difference when given freely to a stranger. It can even save their life, at a time when they feel far away from home and all alone.

That “pay it forward” spirit stayed with the men and women of the Bridgton Day Support Program at Tri-County Mental Health Services, Inc., after they saw the movie by the same name. So when Group Facilitator Mary Ross told them the Inkwell, a Cornish print shop, was offering blank cards to make Christmas cards to send to America’s troops, they jumped at the chance.

Day after day, starting in September, the group made it their mission to adorn the cards with stickers and craft foam candy canes, Christmas trees, teddy bears, dogs and wreaths. They used colorful felt-tip markers to write “Happy Holidays!” and sign their first names.

When they were done, the group had created over 500 cards — and they didn’t stop there. They are making over 100 more Christmas cards, to give out to patients at Bridgton Hospital, and residents of both the Fryeburg Health Care Center and the Bridgton Health Care Center.

It’s all about being part of their world, instead of allowing their mental illness to isolate them from it. Being together every day in a social setting, they check in with each other and connect with the larger world — and in so doing, they find hope and caring in their own lives.

“You never know how one nice thing can keep feeding off another, and another,” said Corey, who grew up near former Bridgton Police Chief David Lyons, who is now stationed overseas. “They deserve it,” he said of the cards he and his colleagues so lovingly created. “They’re putting their lives on the line every day, and I want them to know they’re in our thoughts.”

The Inkwell’s owner, Kathleen Benson, has a son in the military, so she put out the call in a local shopper to create cards for the troops. The response was disheartening until she got the call from the Bridgton group, said Ross.

“She cried,” Ross said of Benson. “She was very thankful.” Benson took possession of the cards on Veterans Day, and went through the necessary steps to forward them on to the troops.

When the Inkwell cards ran out, some group members, on their own, bought cards from Renys, during a 20% off sale. Members (last names withheld at Tri-County’s request) who took part in the card party were Corey, Sue, Kim, Larry, Loana, another Sue, Rayanne, Mike and Cornelius.

“What I especially love about this cards for the troops project is that it arose from consumers who wanted to reach out to others,” said Tri-County Director of Development & Community Relations, Tina Clark. The Day Support Program, begun around four years ago and held at all of Tri-County’s locations in Lewiston, Rumford, Farmington, Oxford and Bridgton, “has really had a tremendous impact on hundreds of people,” she said.

Clark said the group’s project is right in line with Tri-County’s ongoing effort to reach out to returning military men and women who may suffer from war-related emotional issues such as PTSD, depression or suicidal thoughts.

For more information about Tri-County’s Day Support Program or its services for veterans, contact Clark at 783-4663, ext. 158.

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