Each year on the fourth day of July, people across the country celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, parades and patriotic displays of red, white and blue. Importantly, we celebrate being a great nation that believes in freedom for all.

At MHA (Mental Health Association), “Independence Day” is actually something we celebrate throughout the year. Based in Western Mass, MHA is a non-profit provider of residential and support services for individuals and their families affected by mental health, developmental disabilities, acquired brain injury, substance use and homelessness. Guided by passion and promise, MHA fosters community engagement, access to recovery and health and wellness, and above all else – independence.

Declarations of independence are made every day and celebrated with those MHA serves: the young family whose tenancy was preserved so homelessness was avoided; the older gentleman with traumatic brain injury who is rebuilding his self-confidence and ability to socialize by participating in recreational activities; the young woman who is finally free of her addiction and living successfully in long-term recovery.

And “Amy.” That’s not her real name, but she’s a real person. Slim, fragile, and in desperate need of a caring environment, 20-year-old Amy, who has severe Intellectual Disabilities, was referred to MHA as her caregivers could no longer provide the many levels of support she needs. She is unable to care for herself. Amy could not live alone. Fortunately, her caregivers had the good sense and kind hearts to get her into a program, such as we provide at MHA, which offers the intensive, round-the-clock support she requires.

When she arrived at MHA, we found that Amy was non-verbal. Despite her Intellectual Disabilities, she clearly could recognize how sad she was being separated from familiar surroundings. We learned that she had been sleeping on the floor, so when she was offered her own bed to sleep in, she wasn’t sure what it was for. Throughout the night, her heart-wrenching wails vocalized the emotional distress she was experiencing.

Amy’s first few days with us were difficult for her. She rarely interacted with staff and peers. Even with close support, MHA staff began to wonder as the days passed whether Amy would be successful in her transition. But one afternoon something changed. As staff and residents gathered in the kitchen, Amy walked over to a stack of plastic cups, took a cup, and turned on the faucet. Then she took a drink. Until this point she’d hardly been eating or drinking anything she was offered, but Amy had recognized others in the house taking a cup, filling it with water and drinking. Her action was so simple, but in our world it
was so incredibly significant as it signaled the capacity to address a personal need. She was thirsty, she used a cup, she turned on the water, she took a drink.

As you enjoy cookouts, parades and fireworks this Independence Day, please also join me in celebrating the people who make up our country. Join all us at MHA in celebrating equality and opportunity. Join us in celebrating independence for everyone, and especially for Amy.