Kenai resident Twyla Bentley said the Birchwood Center, a local behavioral health day center and outreach program, has a profound meaning to her.
“For a while I struggled with personal focus and anxiety,” she said Wednesday night, standing in front of a group of residents in the reception area of Peninsula Community Health Services’ Soldotna building. “I didn’t trust easily. After becoming part of the program I experienced changes and opportunities I wouldn’t have felt brave enough to do on my own.”
Bentley said her journey aided by Birchwood and PCHS has helped her recover her self-esteem and self-reliance through its many programs including her favorites — hiking, camping and snowshoeing.
“I want you to know that I lost myself,” she said fighting back tears. “I lost who I was, and this program has helped me find myself again. I appreciate everyone, my peers and the staff members of Birchwood and the Peninsula Health Center. I’m on my way back.”
PCHS hosted its fourth annual Love Lights tree lighting ceremony Wednesday night. The ceremony is designed to promote the Love Lights fundraising effort, the only such donation-gathering effort the health services facility takes on during the year, Executive Director Monica Adams said.
Adams said all donations raised through the program — short for Love Lights The Way — go back to help PCHS clients in a number of services and programs including Birchwood.
PCHS is funded mainly through grants, state and federal sources as well as insurance companies, Adams said. Donations help offset some items clients need that are either not reimbursed or the center cannot bill insurance for. Sometimes that includes assistance with transportation, medications, electric bills, food and special care. Adams said about $20,000 has been raised by the campaign during the last four years, but that’s a small amount compared to what the programs expend.
“As we light this tree tonight, I would like us all to consider the sparkling lights on the tree,” she said. “(Each) donation represents one of the lights and it represents the light and the leadership that our donors provide so that we can help the many people who need our support.”
Soldotna resident Margaret Parrott, also a former Birchwood client, said when she first came to the Peninsula, “all I did was cry.” Now, she said she feels “blessed” she is here.
“I was very lost,” she said. “I had no income, but I received wonderful services through Cottonwood Medical, Cottonwood Behavioral and the Birchwood program despite the fact I had no income, no insurance and no way to be a part of anything.”
She felt she did not deserve the help at the time, but she said she now spends her time volunteering with the program.
“I return everyday with hope in my heart,” she said. “To have a program that gives you hope to work with medical and psychological groups that care about you and want to see you back into your own life, back holding the reins to your world, is an amazing thing.”
Wednesday’s tree lighting ceremony also featured readings of written statements from Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and a statement from Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche.
Micciche said he was proud to have watched PCHS’ development through the years.
“You’ve given a lot of hope to folks that haven’t had it in the past and I know you’ve got a long way to go on giving hope to others you’ve not yet touched,” said Micciche, also the area’s senator-elect. “Things are tough here this year. It could be a tough winter and without the services that are provided here I think there would be a lot that would simply go without very much needed health and behavioral treatments.”
Adams said she also hoped the fundraising effort and the ceremony helped shed light on just what services PCHS provides. Demand for those services has grown in recent years, the center struggles filling positions to meet those demands and some people who could benefit from the services they provide simply aren’t aware of the center, she said.
“We want to be there for people with Medicare insurance, we want to be here for people with Medicaid because that’s our job,” she said. “These are the people that have the hardest challenge in finding people to care for them and that’s what we are here for.”
Donation forms may be found at the PCHS building in Soldotna at 230 E. Marydale Ave. Ste. #3 or online donations may be made at http://www.pchsak.org/_pages/Love_Lights.php. For more information call 260-7300.