New program for mentally challenged opens

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Life Skills opened a new program in April for people 50 and older that are mentally challenged or mentally ill. Program manager and therapist Sarah Dennis can teach up to eight students at a time and currently has seven.

Dennis said &8220;Being here keeps their minds focused and hands busy.&8221;

Participants in the program learn about money management, housekeeping, socialization, cooking, making crafts, hygiene, preventing and treating diabetes and the side effects of medication among other life skills. Taylor said diabetes and high blood pressure are common among her patients and she has to constantly educate them about these illnesses.

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Dennis and R.N. Betty H. Taylor both believe many of the clients at Life Skills are hidden away by their families and forgotten. Taylor is the in house nurse at Life Skills.

Taylor said, &8220;A lot of times the family doesn&8217;t want to be bothered by them because they don&8217;t understand the illness.&8221;

Dennis said, &8220;A lot of them have been shut-in and kept away from the world.&8221;

With Life Skills they get out of the house and go to movies, restaurants and to events such as the Special Olympics. Dennis believes the program motivates clients and gives them a sense of belonging.

&8220;We make them feel important,&8221; Dennis said. &8220;I don&8217;t give up on them and they don&8217;t give up on themselves.&8221;

The elderly program follows a regimental routine beginning with breakfast at 9 a.m. followed by exercise and classes ending at 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Client Eddie Jones said exercise is his favorite part of the day. Shelly McKnight said Miss Sarah (Dennis) is nice and she likes playing games. Connect Four is McKnight&8217;s current favorite. Yvonne Hunter says she has become best friends with fellow students Leroy Robinson and Eddie Jones. Her favorite game is Dominoes and she also loves putting together puzzles. Bible reading and spiritual guidance is also part of their learning.

The clients at Life Skills have access to a psychiatrist, mental health therapist, case management worker and social worker.

&8220;You gotta love them or you can&8217;t do this,&8221; Taylor said. &8220;If your just coming in to draw a check you&8217;re in the wrong business.&8221;