“Many of us who support Woodley House do so because we have experienced mental illness in our own families.”

We asked Woodley House Board member Ann Terry Pincus to share why Woodley House and its annual movie benefit have a special place in her heart. Here’s her story:

Some one asked me recently why I have supported Woodley House for so many years. The answer is sad in one way: because mental illness continues to be a terrible and dismaying problem for way too many people. It is true that advances have been and continue to be made to help people cope with mental issues, but still, it is not enough. Whole families suffer if one person is struck with mental illness. Whole communities are hurt by even one person unable to cope with his or her problem. So I try to help those struggling with their problems find help and hopefully a solution. One of the best ways is through Woodley House, which provides a caring home environment while sufferers get their lives back together. Woodley House helps people relearn their life skills and find the strength to go forward.

Many of us who support Woodley House do so because we have experienced mental illness in our own families. In my case it was my father who suffered extreme anxiety and took many overdoses of drugs, which he hoped would help combat his fears and apprehensiveness. But all of his pain and problems caused much trauma in our family; we were unable to understand his agony and finally he just couldn’t cope and died at only 66 years old, still in anguish. So I am hopeful that Woodley House can help other families as they deal with problems that seem to be without relief. We had no Woodley House when I was a young girl and I know that my father would have prospered with such an arrangement. Therefore my support of Woodley House grows stronger with every passing year. I believe absolutely in its mission and purpose.

But how do we support financially such hands-on living arrangements, complete with 24- hour medical and psychiatric care? One way is through the annual Woodley House movie benefit, now almost 20 years old. This benefit not only helps support those experiencing mental problems but also gives enjoyment (beyond the satisfaction of knowing the money is going to a great cause) to those who contribute. Who wouldn’t want to snuggle down in a big theatre with free popcorn and coke and watch one of the best movies of the year?

Of course the answer to that is that everyone — or almost everyone — would jump at the chance to enjoy themselves. And this year we have “Unbroken,” which is particularly appropriate for Woodley House consumers and supporters. It is the story of a young man who overcame all odds and survived even PTSD to become — in every way — a true hero. This tale will inspire all of us — whether we are struggling with mental issues or living the life of Riley — to try harder to make a better world. I hope that all of you who read this blog will be inspired (at this very moment) to click on “Unbroken” here  and buy a ticket (or more than one if possible!) to our benefit on December 17th.

“There is no other organization quite like Woodley House, focused on mental illness and housing and supportive services.”

Meet Woodley House’s Board President, Isabel Jasinowski.

Isabel’s mother, Mimi Hyde, had her first bipolar episode in 1949 when Isabel was born. This was a time before the term bipolar even existed, and very little was known about mental health. And yet despite the severe stigma surrounding mental illness, Mimi was very open about her experience.

“She was really a pioneer on how to approach mental illness as something not to be ashamed of. She always talked about it very openly. She shared with other people because she felt, ‘Ok, we don’t know what it is, but I can’t be the only one. And it’s important for people not to feel that they have to keep it a secret. Keeping it a secret just increases the pain.’

“For twenty years, she tried everything the doctors advised her to do, but they couldn’t tell her what she had because they just didn’t know in that day and age. I don’t know how she ever, survived without medication for so long. She was one of the first people in the U.S. to get on lithium.”

Bipolar disorder runs in Isabel’s immediate and extended family. She herself lives with it.

“My sister and I have always been very open on a one-to-one basis. As you might imagine, when I was in the business world, I was careful for quite some time in terms of not talking about it. But towards the end of my career, I said, “Hey, maybe I can help others.” So now that I’m retired I talk to people very openly about it.

Isabel recently retired from a career in government affairs, and is looking forward to dedicating her time to helping Woodley House as Board Chair. The Board has laid out some important goals for the near future as it faces a challenging policy environment in Washington, DC.

Currently, the DC Department of Behavioral Health is transitioning toward a “home-first” model, in which people with chronic mental illness receive supportive wrap around services only after being secured permanent housing. This differs from Woodley House, which offers services as integral parts of its program to help vulnerable individuals in crisis find more stable footing. During this time of rapid policy change, the implications for Woodley House remain unclear.

“We are not saying Home First is a bad idea. What we are saying is that some people – like the population we serve – really can’t afford any lapse in services. They don’t do well on their own without that support and they need to be in a community residential setting as they transition towards independence. Programs like Woodley House play a critical role in making sure there is no break in those critical services.”

Because the mental health sector is constantly in flux, one of Isabel’s primary goals for Woodley House is to broaden the base of public-private partnerships and resources for Woodley House consumers. The Woodley House Board kicked off a major fundraising campaign in September with the goal of raising an additional $100,000 over the next two years from private sources.

In addition to raising funds, Isabel and the Board want to raise more friends of Woodley House. For decades, Woodley House has had a dedicated group of individuals and families whose support has been critical to people living with mental illness in the Washington, DC metro area. Isabel would like to see that circle of support expand.

“Save December 17th for Woodley House’s 18th annual movie benefit, a special advanced screening of Unbroken from Universal Pictures,” Isabel said. Directed by Angelina Jolie, it is based on the best-selling book by Washingtonian Laura Hillenbrand and tells a truly remarkable story.

“The movie benefit is an excellent way to celebrate the commitment of the Washington, DC community to Woodley House. There is no other organization quite like Woodley House, focused on mental illness and housing and supportive services.

“And what makes Woodley House so special is its commitment to treating each person as an individual with no cookie-cutter notion of what they need. We offer people a continuum of care from crisis care to semi-independent living with the goal of getting people reintegrated into the community. Woodley House treats its residents with dignity and respect. Woodley House wants residents to participate in the decision-making process as to what is best for them. It is a profound model.”