This week the mental health community came together for the 2nd Stephanie Moulton Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Library on Tuesday with a turnout of more than 400 direct care workers, staff and consumers. We gather for this annual training event to honor Stephanie Moulton, a young residential direct care worker who represented the passion, commitment and belief in recovery and decency and who we lost too soon.
There are so many people to thank for making the Symposium an integral part of the Department of Mental Health. And I can speak for all when I say that Stephanie will always be remembered in a positive, constructive and important way. The dedication she brought to direct care work in human services is an inspiration for our mission to ensure a safe, dignified and respected mental health system and community that gives individuals living with mental illness every opportunity to fully participate in the life they choose to live.
As we shared, learned and discussed the best practices for safety, dignity and a hopeful future for people living with mental illness, the echoes of President Kennedy in the JFK Library set the appropriate tone for this important work. It was 50 years ago, in 1963, that he signed the Community Mental Health Act into law. It was a monumental turning point in the treatment of psychiatric disorders and in President Kennedy’s call to action was also his fervent belief that all Americans, every one of us – including those with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities and addictions – have a right to lead dignified lives and to share in the benefits of our society.
And as Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz reminded us when he addressed the Symposium, another important event taking place at the same time across the globe resonated with our purpose. “In South Africa this morning, President Obama used the phrase Ubuntu in his tribute to late President Nelson Mandela. It roughly translates into human kindness and it is what we all believe is so important and is a large part of why this Symposium is being held,” the Secretary said.
We have our challenges and rewards in the work we do. The fact that so many direct care workers and friends in the mental health community took time from their busy lives and schedules is an enormous validation of their commitment. We all stopped for a day to have a dialogue, to listen and hear each other and this is why I know we will always find the common ground that keeps us working together for the same cause, the same mission that, like Stephanie, we all feel so passionate about.
We were very pleased to present the annual Stephanie Moulton Award along with Kim Flynn, Stephanie’s mother, to Yajaira Burke, a direct care worker at a residential program in Southbridge, operated by The Bridge of Central Mass. Skillful, compassionate and always showing that human kindness so necessary in our work, Yajaira connects in a profound way with the individuals in her care and encourages them to go deep to recognize and celebrate their own potential. It was my honor to meet her and celebrate her dedicated service.
I have no doubt that the Stephanie Moulton Symposium will every year be a tremendous benefit to everyone associated with direct care human services work. My hope is that we will always live up to Stephanie’s standards of dedication and compassion and pay tribute to her legacy as an example for all of us to follow for many, many years to come.