By ALICIA LEONARD
A concept that came about over six years ago is nearing the construction stage to help citizens of Walton County find support for loved ones with brain disorders.
“The idea came about originally from the Pilot Club program,” Hilda Coursey recalls, “and realizing that we did not have a specific place or group to help family and individuals who were dealing with brain disorders. We had groups here and there, but not a central place to help families.”
Coursey’s father, who was suffering from severe dementia was also an inspiration in the original plan. “He took part in the Council on Aging respite program and it moved to many different offices. My father enjoyed going every day, but he also enjoyed being outside when it was at the old hospital building. My dad believed everything he got in the mail at this time and always thought he had won the sweepstakes, so one day he asked me that when he got his money, if my husband and I would help him find some property to build a place for seniors and such, so they could stop moving and have a place where they could enjoy the outdoors, as well. That’s really the first time I remember the idea originating.”
The seed for Friendship House was planted and soon started to grow and bear fruit. As the numbers grow of sons and daughters that are becoming their parents’ caregivers, Friendship House will fill a special niche. “It will be a place for friends and relatives to get help for anyone suffering from a brain related disorder. As we began to plan and talk with people, we soon realized that something that is greatly needed in our area is a place for caregivers to drop off their loved ones in a safe environment while they go about running errands or taking care of something, knowing that their loved one is safe. So, in some ways it will also be a short-time adult respite care for those in need.”
Coursey said that many she comes in contact with do not fit the criteria for some other local programs and Friendship House will alleviate this. “We have been working with a young man who was involved in an automobile accident and he doesn’t qualify for some other programs, but his case is one of the things we will be able to help with,” she said. Other types of injury or brain disorders include stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s and will fall under the scope of Friendship House.
Friendship House will also serve as a contact point for family members and patients seeking different services. “Someone with severe depression might not need our respite care, but we can help connect them with someone who can help and we can help raise community awareness at the same time. If it’s brain-related, we want people to contact us and help us find the help they need,” said Coursey.
A number of state agencies have already signed on to be at the building at least once a month to help Walton citizens connect with funds and support from agencies that are located in Pensacola and other surrounding areas. Another goal of Friendship House is educating the public on brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s. Coursey said that these types of illness are not always visible and their sufferers sometimes fall through the cracks.
One theme that runs throughout the interview is how much Coursey appreciates the volunteers and community members who have helped with this dream. “This entire project is going to become a reality because of volunteers, fundraising and donations,” said Coursey. In fact, the entire operating expenses of the center will come from donations and volunteers and Coursey and other volunteers have not requested and are not planning on requesting any help in the form of tax dollars for the facility.
Coursey said, “I can say, without exaggeration, that we have had hundreds of volunteers, in one way or another, who have helped with this project. Our quarterly yard sales bring in funds for this, as well as the amazing outpouring of donations from citizens, and the support we receive every year at the Countryside festival. So we are going by faith, with the support of this wonderful community, that we will be able to keep this facility open. Walton County is just that kind of community. Everyone pulls together to meet the needs of citizens and I am so proud to be a part of a community like the one we have here.”
Coursey said it was hard to single out volunteers who had been instrumental in the process, but named a few people who have been there for every yard sale and are always up for helping – Carley Weaver and Margaret Collins. “We have so many who help, though, and are very blessed by our volunteers,” she said. Two other volunteers she named were James Hayes and Jim Barnes. “They have done the hard physical labor for us, but I hesitate to single anyone out because we have so many, I can’t name them all.”
Mac Baily and Joey Rushing, of Total Homes, also received high praise from Coursey. “They agreed to pull the permits and oversee our construction. Many others shied away from doing that, because we are receiving help with the construction from Walton County inmates, but Mac and Joey were onboard from the start, in helping make this dream a reality.”
Others who donated to the project are W. A. Howell through D & A Landscaping, Bobby Anderson Pest Control and Kurt Geohagan. Construction is planned to start during the last week of October and hopefully be finished and open for clients by January.
The Herald-Breeze will continue to follow the construction of this unique facility and the volunteers who are helping make it happen in the upcoming weeks and months. For more information on Friendship House, call 892-0565.