Greater than the sum of its parts: The evolution of a telethon and community organization

What does it take to pull off an all day Telethon full of live entertainment, rows of vendors, prizes,boisterous hosts and public guests? How do you encourage scores of people to donate their energy, talent, food and sponsorship to the tune of two million dollars over the course of 28 years? First, you have a remarkable community full of passionate individuals willing to put others’ needs ahead of their own. Then, you build a non-profit agency capable of affecting thousands of people’s lives through an array of mental health and well-being programs too broad to even list.

In short, you’re an organization like Catalyst.

In the beginning, the Telethon was known as “The Rehab Telethon.” First started by WMFD in 1992, its proceeds funded the operation of The Rehab Center which specialized in the rehabilitation of people with physical disabilities. Catalyst itself, is the 2010 merger of two previously well-known entities that served the community for over 65 years: The Center for Individual and Family Services and the aforementioned Rehab Center. It’s comprised of four major departments: Audiology and Deaf Services, Vocational Services, Mental Health and Crisis Services, and Addiction Services.

The Rehab Center is now the hub for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Crisis Services, Audiology and the Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Vocational wing—which includes Progress Industries and Precise Services. Just up the street, is “The Center,” an expansive building housing Adult Mental Health and Crisis Services, The District V Forensic Diagnostic Center, residential programming, a stabilization unit, and outpatient drug and alcohol resources. It’s a complex of buildings wrapping their way along Sterkel Ave. that also includes New Beginnings Residential Treatment Center and will soon include the only Drug Withdrawal Management facility in all of Richland County.

But, what, exactly, is Catalyst?

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Deaf and addicted: How one woman reclaimed her life with Catalyst Life Services

She’s seated across from me in the ambient light of the Director of Deaf Service’s office. Her interpreter is by my side so she can have a clear view of her hands, and so I don’t mistakenly direct my attention and questions to the interpreter instead of the woman herself.

She’s been a client of Catalyst Life Services for over two decades. In May, she will be sober for one year. I ask her what first brought her to Catalyst and she begins rapidly moving her hands to tell her story.

“I think I was 25.  I was addicted to drugs and had attempted suicide.” There’s a pause before she continues, “It was from my childhood. I had a really bad experience. I was sexually molested and that was why I was depressed. So, when I added drugs and alcohol…” She makes a gesture like a bomb going off.

25 was a difficult age for this woman, who wished to remain anonymous. She unexpectedly ended up pregnant, left her family, and married the father of her child–a marriage that eventually ended, leaving her to raise her children on her own. It was only when she came to the Richland County Health Department for assistance during her pregnancy that she learned she could use the services of an interpreter. The interpreters she found came from the nearby Rehab Center–now part of Catalyst Life Services; it was through contact with them that she was able to find the help she needed when her life took a turn for the worse. Through Catalyst, she’s taken part in addiction therapy groups, private counseling sessions, visited the Audiologist, and utilized the many services offered at the Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. When I asked her how Catalyst helps her she indicates a never-ending list. There’s the mental wellness part, of course, but then there is the more day to day assistance. Director of Deaf Services Tanya Haga explains that for many deaf clients, English is not their first language, so paperwork that they get from the doctor’s office or letters they receive from schools concerning their children are difficult to read. The uninitiated, myself included, may be forgiven for not understanding that American Sign Language isn’t based off of American English. “The grammar is completely different,” says Haga. Continue Reading