One man drums up assistance for mentally challenged

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Taking on big tasks is something James Gladden is immersed in as one of the board members at The Alexandria Mental Services Chest, Inc. As a board member, he has taken on a fundraising effort to help city residents who are suffering from mental health ailments or are intellectually disabled; but in the big picture, he is fighting the stigma that is attached to mental illness.

Many people hes encountered see mental illness as something the victim can control if they just try, like its all in their mind. As hes found out through research and personal experience, those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorders or psychotic depression, its a real disease with debilitating effects.

They think they can do better if they wanted to, Gladden said, noting that theres more involved than just an illness of the mind.

Gladdens goal, through AMSC, is to raise enough money so Alexandrians who suffer from these illnesses can live on their own, without parental support or hospitalization. And hes looking within the city, with million dollar homes and deep pockets, for support.

I would like to see neighbors helping neighbors in Alexandria, he said. He needs about $8,000 per person, but so far, his efforts with mailings or soliciting on the street, were not successful. Of the 5,000 mailings, he got monetary responses from fewer than 10.

Different levels for help
The first group of people he wants to help is recent high school graduates that are intellectually disabled since birth, and need assistance. In the past, Gladden worked with these recent graduates in a Sunday school setting and found them very responsive and easy to get along with. From there, he plans on branching out to the other level of mental disabilities.

Gladden himself is diagnosed with schizophrenia, as was his father and brother, so he has deeply rooted motivations. I know what it did to him, Gladden said.

Gladden started the Alexandria Mental Services Chest, Inc. in 2004 and formed a board that currently has four members. Hes come up with a strategy for achieving his goal, approaching professionals in the city that are already working in this respect.

Im not going to give up, this is too important, he said.

Gladden is a Mason and has an office in the George Washington Masonic Temple. Way back in his family tree he is related to James Wilson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He is on the Alexandria Community Services Board, and communicates with some of the board members about his progress with AMSC.

Michael Gilmore, the executive director on the board, said their role in Gladdens efforts would be to identify the children in need so Gladden could direct the money to the right person.

He keeps us informed all along, Gilmore said. The citys Safe Haven program for the citys homeless and mentally ill is one area that Gladden has directed his efforts, speaking in favor of it at different events.

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