For four hours every Wednesday, a meeting room at High Praise Fellowship Church in Slidell is the site of a special kind of healing and support. For the dozen or so clients gathered for everything from group therapy to craft sessions, The Blooming Tree wellness program provides mental and emotional support that otherwise would be unavailable to them.
To Lindy Guidry, a licensed professional counselor who is a mental health provider for the St. Tammany Parish public schools when not volunteering as director of the free wellness program, The Blooming Tree is a community lifeline dedicated to keeping people healthy.
Guidry’s immediate goal for The Blooming Tree program, which meets every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church, 60456 North Military Road, near the Brown’s Switch intersection, is to improve the quality of life for people with mental or emotional conditions by providing a structured day program and ongoing mental health support.
Because people with mental or emotional illness tend to isolate themselves, those making their way to The Blooming Tree wellness program are clearly Guidry’s heroes. “Taking that first step is not easy, but they’re taking responsibility for their illness,” she said, beaming with pride.
Having the courage to take that first step is rewarded with access to a program that the clients say offers comfort, freedom, personal growth, and access to a wealth of mental health resources.
Michael Neu of Slidell is eager to share a parallel between the growth he has experienced at The Blooming Tree and that of the middle-age eagle that plucks out its matted feathers and scrapes its talons and beak against mountainous crags to enable the majestic bird to sprout new feathers, beak and talons. “If it continued on its same path, it wouldn’t have survived,” Neu explained. “The Blooming Tree is life-changing; we learn something new every five minutes.”
Susie Harbour of Slidell has found a safe environment where she and other clients of The Blooming Tree are free to speak about their lives — the good and the bad. “Nobody is judged by the way they act or the way they are,” she said.
“I have a life now,” said Crystal Marrero. “It jump-started me. I still have problems, but I know I can make it with my ‘Ms. Lindy fix.’”
The Blooming Tree operates under the auspices of Renewed Hope Center, a Slidell nonprofit that offers personal and professional training and counseling.
Since being established last August at the request of individuals with diagnosed mental illness who were unable to participate in a long-term mental wellness support program because of a lack of funding or appropriate insurance coverage, The Blooming Tree has served 22 individuals with persistent mental illnesses. Average attendance at the weekly gathering is 14 clients, 10 of whom also regularly receive transportation to the program.
Upon their arrival, The Blooming Tree clients take part in group counseling and are constantly developing new skills or relearning old skills, establishing social networks, achieving personal goals, and bolstering their self-confidence. They also enjoy a free meal that has either been prepared by Guidry or has been donated by supportive businesses, including Marco’s Pizza, Italian Pie and McAlister’s.
Keeping people healthy and out of a crisis state involves providing an atmosphere that brims with the positive. “We all have so many negatives in our lives. Sometimes you just have to have an attitude of gratitude, and focus on the things you can change,” Guidry said.
Working with Guidry to achieve that goal is a small, but dedicated, team of volunteers.
“Everything done here is done by volunteers, and they bring their excellence with them. Can you imagine the love? That’s what we feel here,” she said.
That volunteer corp includes professional photographers who share an hour or two of their time guiding the clients through a serious of photographic self-expression exercises; the florist, scrapbooker and bead worker who donate their time and supplies; the artist who talks the clients through the transformation of a piece of grey slate into a fleur-de-lis work of art; the reader who shares a special book and invites the clients to discuss their thoughts about its subject; the musician who shares the gift of song.
It’s a team that Guidry hopes will grow.
“Everybody has some gift or some talent, and they’re all welcome” she said.
Guidry’s long-term goals for The Blooming Tree are:
Expand the program to three days per week, serving 35 clients.
Increase volunteer resources. Guidry stressed that any skill and any level of support will be valued.
Locate a larger 1,200- to 1,500-square-foot permanent facility with access to a kitchen, a larger meeting room for group therapy sessions and more, a classroom, a storage room, a director’s office, and men’s and women’s restroom facilities.
Establish a dependable transportation program to assist the clients with those needs.
Develop a steady financial stream of support to provide meaningful and fun activities and appropriate insurance.
Guidry said one in four adults experiences a mental health disorder within a given year; one in every 17 people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder; and one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder.
Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias affect 18.7 percent of adults.
Fewer than one third of adults with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services within any given year.
The current national suicide rate average is 11.3 per 100,000 people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In St. Tammany, the rate is 17 per 100,000.
More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder; 21 percent of prisoners have a recent history of mental disorder; and 70 percent of juveniles in the juvenile justice system have at least one diagnosable mental disorder.
Slidell mental health advocate Robert DeBrandt stressed the importance of available mental and emotional wellness services for all, and endorsed The Blooming Tree as just such a community resource.
“This isn’t just for people with a diagnosis, people who are out of their heads. All people need to know about good mental and emotional wellness, and this community needs to see mental and emotional wellness as a priority,” DeBrandt said. “If you don’t have (mental and emotional wellness), you don’t function well at work, you don’t have good relationships.”
“When you get to a crisis situation, it’s too late,” he said.
For more information on the program, to register for The Blooming Tree, or to offer assistance to the program in any way, contact Guidry at 985.265.5747.