THOMASVILLE — Easter came with gift baskets and breakfast for those facing mental and physical challenges, courtesy of Outreach Angels and its supporters and donors. 

Going forward, Outreach Angels has more in mind than providing a hot meal for those in need and often relegated to living in the shadows.

Having a group such as Outreach Angels that focuses on advocacy is absolutely needed for those in need getting what they need, said board member Chris Sheffield.

“We hope we can ignite an interest in our local politicians to address a core population in our community,” he said.

Southwestern State Hospital was an integral part of the community, Sheffield, a certified addictions counselor. When it closed, however, many of its clients found themselves on the streets.

“A lot of those who are homeless suffer from mental illness,” Sheffield said. “So that need is enormous.”

Getting those in need into a stable environment is crucial, Sheffield said.

He speaks from experience, his own, in fact. He’s been an addictions counselor for 20 years, after he was a Marine and a National Football League player.

“Addiction destroyed all of that,” he said. “I came to the field because of a life experience with addiction and severe depression because of that.”

Georgia Pines is a wonderful facility, Sheffield said, but it is limited. 

Outreach Angels formed earlier this year, when Courtney Kelleigh, who originally came to Thomasville as a medical intern before devoting her time to mental health issues, and Sheffield joined forces. The goal is to bring help to the people in need of it.

“Humans need human touch,” Sheffield said. “They need other humans in their lives.”

Some families shun relatives with mental health issues, making it imperative to get them into a stable situation, Sheffield acknowledged. 

“As a provider, we try to create some sort of family for them and to let them know they are not forgotten and they are loved,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made such interaction difficult. 

“The pandemic has created a void because of state and federal rules and regulations,” Sheffield said. “It has disallowed us to engage people at a grassroots level.”

That also means those with mental health issues in greater need of help are even more hard-pressed to receive assistance.

“We have an extreme number of folks not getting serviced,”Sheffield said. “It was already a challenge. Now the void is even greater. There are a lot of people who need attention.”

COVID-19’s effects also have made issues with mental health and suicide more pertinent, Kelleigh said.

The group has big plans for Thomasville, she said. 

“We’re starting here in Thomasville and hope people will get inspired and create satellites,” Kelleigh said. “This is an issue Georgia should be paying attention to.”

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Editor Pat Donahue can be reached at (229) 226-2400 ext. 1806.

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