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INNOVATIVE CARE FOR MENTALLY ILL DRAWS SUPPORT

It was a bold first step: The founders of Odollam Inc., realizing they needed to establish themselves as providers of innovative mental health care before they could expect financial support, opened the area's first comprehensive, residential treatment facility in a rehabilitated crack house.

A year later, they're on the map.

The facility, located at 915 Ferry Ave., has gained support both in the neighborhood and in the mental health care community.

Several volunteers have come on board to assist in the mission of providing responsible, compassionate, people-centered services for the mentally ill.

And now the organization is seeking to branch out, expand its board of directors and, of course, secure that all-important state and county funding that will allow it to not only survive, but thrive. Odollam held an open house last week for selected community members, documenting the progress made over a challenging first year and outlining the goals for the year ahead.

The brainchild of Larry Grace, who serves as executive director, Odollam represents "an alternative to current mental health services," with the goal of empowering the client to foster independence and a return to productive living.

Grace worked as intensive case manager for 15 years with Family and Children's Service of Niagara.

About three years ago, he decided to try to "fill in some of the gaps" in traditional mental health care. That's when Odollam was born.

The organization took its name from the Biblical story of David and Achish, King of Goth, in which Odollam came to represent refuge for the misfits of society. "As in this Biblical story, Odollam remains the refuge of today's misfits, where they are given power and purpose to regain self-worth and dignity," the group's literature notes.

Grace firmly believes that, given the proper environment, even the most severely disturbed residents can regain their quality of life and become productive members of society again -- while eliminating the frequent hospitalizations so costly to the community.

In the year Odollam has operated, he's seen the facility's three residents make tremendous strides, he said.

Grace directs his all-volunteer staff to promote a family atmosphere for the clients. They are expected to contribute to the upkeep of the residence and to regularly attend workshop programs.

The facility relies upon "doctors who don't accept the status quo" and are willing to use newer medications, Grace said.

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In the beginning, Grace had a good idea but little else. He approached fellow FACS worker Sara Carella, who offered to help.

But the problem, from the beginning, was a lack of funding. Realizing he needed to establish his program before he could secure governmental help, Grace and crew set out to rehabilitate a former rental property of his that had fallen into disrepair and was being used primarily by neighborhood crack users.

"We knew we had to show people these ideas could work," Ms. Carella said. "The people in the neighborhood were originally not very thrilled (about the plans). But now they're happy with us."

Using donated furnishings and making do on whatever resources the clients could provide -- in addition to some corporate and individual gifts -- Odollam began to have an impact. "I have seen unbelievable changes -- things I thought could never possibly happen, working with the most extreme cases," Ms. Carella said.

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Former city councilman Michael Gawel volunteers at the residence on weekends and said he's seen the effectiveness of the program. "It's really saving the county a lot of money keeping these people out of the hospital," he said.

Thomas Insana, president of Odollam's board of directors, said that the eventual goal is to have the facility become self-sustaining, and to expand in order to accommodate more clients.

"We've started to introduce the idea to the mental health network," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in Larry. He's really well respected in the industry and I think this can happen."

To contribute or volunteer, call Grace at 282-7035.

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