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Beth Mahler Reaches Out to Mentally Ill

By Blondell Peterson
September 2005

Sue Kavelak, left, and Beth Mahler
Friends and neighbors Sue Kavelak, left, and Beth Mahler "laugh a lot." (Photo by Blondell Peterson)

Mattie Sanders sets the table for lunch.
Mattie Sanders sets the table for lunch. (Photo by Blondell Peterson)

Trey Ball relaxes in the reading area at Club Horizon.
Trey Ball relaxes in the reading area at Club Horizon. (Photo by Blondell Peterson)

Ask any Club Horizon staff or club member if they know Beth Mahler, and you will likely hear, "No, I don't believe I do." But ask what kinds of things volunteers have done there, and most folks will tell you volunteers painted the entire 5,500 square feet of the club last year. Beth Mahler, a contractor in the Laboratory of Experimental Pathology, and her 17-year-old son, Charlie Gaul, are the phantom volunteers who did the painting. Like so many other things she does for the clubhouse, she said, she did it because "it just needed to be done."

Club Horizon is a non-profit prevocational day program for adults with persistent mental illness. The members of the club are learning to get their lives back on track after a diagnosis. The clubhouse has a snack bar, thrift shop, laundry room, TV room, full kitchen, dining area and several social areas. Members handle the daily operation of the clubhouse in all these areas with minimal assistance from the five- person staff.

When asked what kinds of other things Mahler does to help the club, she and Sue Kavelak, a senior volunteer, broke into hilarious laughter. Kavelak and Mahler are next-door-neighbors and "laugh a lot." The joke is that Kavelak is a master at acquiring volunteers-for anything the club needs. Mahler got involved with helping the clubhouse when she asked Kavelak what she was doing for the weekend. The rest is history so to speak.

After the laughing friends composed themselves somewhat, Kavelak chimed in, "She is a wonderful volunteer. Beth will do anything for anybody at anytime. If she is your friend and she believes in what you are doing, she will literally help you day or night. She's raised a wonderful son and he is very similar in that good-natured gentle way of helping others. It's very refreshing. You don't see that too often nowadays."

Mahler modestly admitted to collecting everything from food to furniture when she is notified of a need. She said the greatest short term need is a commercial kitchen. To celebrate its one year anniversary, Club Horizon will host a huge yard sale, bake sale, craft fair and pancake breakfast on September 10 at the site. The clubhouse is located at 101 B Forest Drive in Knightdale. Donations of items other than clothes will be accepted through September 2. Once again, Mahler volunteered to pick up any items for the sale.

Ron Blankenship, the club administrative assistant, said most of the 100 volunteers don't work in the club house itself because the members run it. "Where we need volunteers is out in the community doing the grunt work like getting ready for the yard sales and making contacts with folks to let them know we are here. We need board members -professionals in the social and business community who are willing to invest some time."

According to Kavelak the long term need is to purchase the entire 10,000 square foot building where they currently rent 5,500 feet to have room for expansion. The cost is approximately $800,000. "In eastern wake county the demographics tell us that there are about 140,000 people with mental illness," she said. "Because the state is going to mental health reform and closing Dorothea Dix Hospital in 2007, we have to have community services to help our people get well."

"Quite frankly this place was built on the backs of the volunteers," Blankenship said. "This place was not nice looking. Little over a year ago, they came in and painted. We had a volunteer that strung the wires. We can also use volunteers that have talents for an infrastructure." Financial contributions are welcome as well. All contributions whether monetary or in-kind are tax deductible.

"I'm a bookkeeper by trade, and I have invested in this because I have seen the good that it has done in the one year that we have been here," he said. "I've seen people come out of their shell. They are interacting. We have folks going to work through our transitional employment program."

According to C. Manay Gunter, the executive director, temporary employment is needed. "Basically we go in and learn the job and then we train the member. The employer has no direct responsibility for training. It's a win-win situation. If the member needs to be out for a doctor's appointment, one of the staff members does the job."

"They need computers," Mahler said. "The members get help with writing resumes. We try to get the department of commerce and businesses in the local area to give them jobs. We have a library, so books are welcome donations."

"Just in our little cul de sac, we're all involved," Mahler said. "We want to help because the members smile and they are so happy. Sometimes you do things for people and they say 'gee thanks.' The members at Club Horizon really appreciate everything you do for them and give them."

"This is Beth," Kavelak said. "She always makes time for others in her life. She's a fantastic volunteer and a fantastic person and an even better neighbor. I'm only saying that because I like your lasagna," she jokes. "She makes a killer lasagna!"

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