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LIJ celebrates graduates of mental illness program

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With smiles on their faces and a hop in their step, members of the Queens Day Center’s Next Step program walked to the podium after their names were called to receive a plaque during the center’s commencement ceremony.

Wearing their Sunday best and a white carnation on their lapels, the 55 clients who have been battling mental illness were cheered on by a standing-room-only crowd of family, friends and staff members as they were honored Friday for taking steps toward their recovery over the past year.

“I’ve been in a lot of programs, but this is the only one that has helped me and supported me with my depression and psychotic thoughts,” said Gloria, a Queens Day Center patient. “I hope one day soon they will find a cure for all of us.”

She said she was ecstatic about the graduation because she had never been recognized in her life. She said being in the Queens Day Center program gave her the opportunity to volunteer in a Queens nursing home and allowed her to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Patients’ last names are being withheld to maintain their privacy.

“These men and women are inspiring,” said Frank Nichols, program director. “Everyone in this graduating class had to fight great odds to get where they are today. As it says on the certificate they receive, they had the ‘courage and perseverance’ to take the next step.”

For many of the clients honored at the 10th annual Next Step Award Ceremony, it was the first time in their lives that they had received any recognition for their accomplishments.

Nichols said some of the graduates have accomplished phenomenal things like getting full-time paying jobs, earning their Graduate Equivalency Diploma and graduating from college.

The Queens Day Center, part of the North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is a community-based day treatment program at 87-80 Merrick Blvd. that has been treating mentally ill patients for the past 30 years.

Nichols said the program treats 120 clients who have severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, manic depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. All of the patients live outside the center and spend, on average, four or five days a week in the program.

He said the staff works to improve the patients’ mental health by working with them and their families. The center offers individual and group therapy, vocational training and activities to improve working skills.

“The next step is to get the clients working outside of here,” Nichols said.

He said on average each of the clients spends 1 1/2 years with Queens Day Center before graduating to a different support program.

Uday, another client, said the commencement signified that he was moving in a new and positive direction. He said he was in now in a vocational rehabilitation program.

The support she received from the Queens Day Program helped Marina to get up in the morning, go to work and provided her with a sense of pride and achievement, she said.

“This is really a good achievement, a good award,” said Michael, receiving a round of applause. “I didn’t think I could make progress.”

Dr. Paul Bermanzohn, the center’s medical director, said he was extremely proud of all of the graduates and their accomplishments. He said the honors also belong to the family and staff because the work done in the program is a collective effort.

“I have been in a lot of programs, but this is the first program that acknowledges your achievement,” said Lance. “This is really cool. I like it.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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