The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

May 30, 2014

Community Counseling speaker talks military

The Herald

HERMITAGE — The Community Counseling Center celebrated its annual dinner on May 15 at the Avalon Golf and Country Club at Buhl Park, Hermitage.

Almost 160 community members attended the event including local health care professionals from other human service agencies, CCC staff, persons with mental health/substance abuse issues and their families, and other local business and governmental representatives.

Army Lt. Col. Thomas J. Stokes was the keynote speaker for the dinner and for a workshop the following morning.  

Stokes is an Army Reserves social worker and the commander of the 328th Medical Detachment, Combat and Operational Stress Control Unit based in Coraopolis.

He served a year-long deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan where he was the officer in charge at the combat stress clinic.

During his tour in Afghanistan, Stokes had a filmmaker embedded with him to produce a film documentary, “Journey to Normal,” which is scheduled for release this year. Stokes is a decorated war veteran, and his honors include the combat action badge, Afghanistan campaign medal, NATO Medal and the Bronze Star.

He maintains a private social work practice in Pittsburgh.

His address was entitled “Beyond Military Culture, the Human Being behind the Uniform.” Stokes spoke extensively on military culture and the deployment and reintegration experience of the post-9/11 veteran. Stokes provided insight into the challenges faced by modern military members and families.

Less than 1 percent of Americans have served in the military, and this is the longest war in history. The military-civilian gap is wide and we must learn about the experience of modern military service members. He summarized the deployment cycle, operational stress, and its impact upon the person and their family members. He characterized some personal reactions as “normal responses to very abnormal situations.” Rather than an obligatory “thank you for your service” when we encounter someone in uniform, Stokes challenged the audience to make their gratitude statements much more personal such as:

• Thank you for allowing me to attend my child’s baseball games.

• Thank you for giving me the freedom to take my family on vacation.

• Thank you giving me an opportunity to work and earn a competitive wage.

• Thank you for allowing me to choose what church I attend and where I will live in our country.

• Thank you for permitting me to express my opinions.

In addition, the dinner featured the recognition of service anniversaries for the center’s staff.

30-year service: Susan English, Sandra Paterson and Angelo Stamoolis

25-year service: Diane Pagan and Constance Walker

20-year service: Karen Jefferson, Mary Pollock, Marc Stewart, and Joann Strader

10-year service: Maggie Caesar-Myers

The Dewitt Boozel Community Service Award honors a person/organization whose contributions have helped persons with mental health challenges to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

The 2014 awardees were James Micsky of the United Way of Mercer County, who contacted behavioral health providers including CCC and urged them to initiate local public education efforts on mental health that resulted in the Stamp Out Stigma (SOS) campaign.

The second recipient was Lon Emerick, RUSH Late Model dirt track race car driver and Reynolds High School teacher. He has partnered with the center to educate the public about the prevalence of mental illness, the availability of treatment, and the effectiveness of obtaining professional assistance.

The Vernice C. Frye Award honors a person who has overcome the challenges and obstacles of a mental disorder or substance abuse problem.

The awardee was Jack Luchette, who was encouraged to return to college during his treatment and has earned academic accolades at Penn State Shenango in the human development and family studies program. He also won first prize for a psychology research project and will present the results at an upcoming national conference. Jack plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work after he earns his undergraduate degree this fall.

Stokes provided a much more in-depth educational workshop at the Hermitage CCC office the following morning for persons with behavioral health disorders, family members, and Community Counseling Center staff.

This workshop was presented free to the public as a community outreach service. CCC hopes that these educational events instill a philosophy of Recovery from mental health disorders with treatment being person-focused and culturally competent.