In 2009, after Jefferson Township suffered the loss of several individuals
by suicide, it became clear that there was an immediate need to raise
awareness about mental illness, provide education to the community and,
most importantly, connect people through support and resources.
JT CONNECT was founded by Debi Merz, who is the current Council Vice
President, Ellen Bechtold, the pastor of Jefferson’s Milton United
Methodist Church and Kristine Wilsusen, Jefferson’s Community Health
Educator. The framework for the group was started in 2010 when the founders
met with Celina Gray, Executive Director of the Governor’s Council on
Mental Health Stigma to help define a mission statement and direction for
the group. Originally named Jefferson Township Mental Health Project, the
group was re-branded in 2012 as JT CONNECT, signifying the need to
“connect” the community by raising awareness about mental health, erasing
stigma and providing acceptance and support so people would be willing to
reach out for help.
As a non-profit, CONNECT has received a significant amount of support from
other organizations within the community. The Jefferson Township Municipal
Alliance Committee (“JTMAC”) originally provided CONNECT with “seed money”
to get the group started. In October 2014, with the help of the Junior
Woman's Club of Jefferson Township, CONNECT was the recipient of their 16th
Annual Wrobo Run 5K proceeds. This donation really propelled CONNECT to be
able to extend the number of programs it can provide to the community.
Since inception, CONNECT has held many community events, bringing people
together and providing education about different topics surrounding mental
illness. Some of these events have included wellness walks, a Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) forum for veterans and a yoga clinic.
CONNECT also holds an annual Light a Luminary event that takes place at the
municipal building gazebo, following Christmas in the Village. Residents
gather together to remember loved ones lost and support each other as a
CONNECT’s most recent accomplishment came in April 2015 when they reached
out to The Codey Fund for Mental Health to ask about obtaining “Stigma
Free” signs for Jefferson Township. Former Governor Codey traveled to
Jefferson and presented the signs to Mayor Felter and the CONNECT group on
behalf of The Codey Fund for Mental Health. These signs were placed at the
entrances to Jefferson Township from Route 15 and Berkshire Valley Road and
also at the municipal building. They signify that individuals with mental
illness will find acceptance and support within Jefferson Township.
CONNECT continues to break down barriers and stigma surrounding mental
illness by making a positive impact on the community through education and
helping those in need.
For more information follow Jefferson Township CONNECT on Facebook