Letters to the editor

Loss of Blue Ridge Center’s care a tragedy for us all

Jeff Long’s intelligent letter [“Words From the Front Lines of Mental Illness,” Xpress Jan. 28], which outlined the important need to continue services for our the mentally handicapped citizens, touched a special spot in me. After eight long years of helplessly witnessing the decline and deterioration of my partner’s behavior (and his denial of [these changes]), I depended on the Blue Ridge Center to provide the professional support that might have helped to give meaning and direction to a self-destructive life.

I do not have the expertise to fully comprehend the complications and contradictions that plague the mentally ill. Consequently, as [my former partner’s] behavior became increasingly intolerable I — for my own well being — sadly and necessarily had to terminate the partnership, and release my friend into the world. I was exhausted. I could do no more. It was an action that was traumatic for both of us, and truly strained my compassion for a highly intelligent but very ill individual. But the Blue Ridge Center, I believed, was the one facility where continuity of understanding, professional support would be maintained.

Although I am no longer in contact with my former partner, I fear that the closing of the center might have dramatically impacted his well-being. How many other mentally ill people are faced with fending for themselves, as well? With disability income and insurance often being the only means of financial support, professional guidance is out of reach. Are [these people] falling through the cracks of public assistance? Don’t we, as a sophisticated society, owe it to our citizens to provide care for those who are compromised in caring for themselves? Mental disease is a sad and baffling condition. There are no easy answers.

Unlike Jeff Long, whose letter expressed very admirable insight and self-acknowledgement, it is my experience that people suffering from mental disease are [members of] a disenfranchised community [who are] unable, in large part, to speak up for themselves … unable to form a united “voice” of protest or appeal. I am appalled that our present governmental administration, which is increasing the deficit [by] mind-boggling leaps, is at the same time severely reducing vital public-assistance programs. I can’t help but wonder just how “caring” a society we really are.

Something must be done immediately to reinstate the necessary professional supervision provided by a public mental-health facility. It is up to the rest of us to provide that voice of protest or appeal for those unable to do so. Write to your [Congressional representative] today.

— Jack Lindsay

Ask local coffee merchants for Fair Trade brews

Kudos to Mountain Xpress for the [Jan. 21] cover story, “The Politics of Coffee.” What a nice surprise to find out that while I was in Nicaragua visiting some of the farmers who supply my Fair Trade coffee, Mountain Xpress was delving into this very issue.

The farmers I met were part of a cooperative of small-scale [growers] who, as a group, have better leverage in negotiating fair prices for their coffee, in securing loans, and in promoting a higher quality of life for members. While some are skeptical whether or not Fair Trade certification really protects farmers, it was clear to me that these [growers] were able to keep their land and families intact, afford food and basic medical supplies and, at least, send their children to elementary school.

My customers at The Dripolator Coffeehouse in Black Mountain don’t pay any more than they would at other coffeehouses, even though I serve 97 percent Fair Trade coffees. Clearly, my roaster, Larry’s Beans in Raleigh, takes a monetary hit when he chooses to roast Fair Trade, organic and shade-grown beans, and my profits are less for using them. For this reason, Fair Trade coffees may not yet be for mega-corporations that are only concerned with squeezing every penny they can out of every drop they sell. But there are other business owners like myself who feel some responsibility for the quality of life of growers who ultimately provide us with our livelihoods.

Based on my experiences in Nicaragua and in the coffee industry, I would like to encourage all coffee consumers to ask their local coffeehouse owners to offer Fair Trade brews all day, every day. In this way, consumers, too, can promote fair distribution of the benefits of the coffee trade, and help ensure that the poorest producers don’t end up bearing the biggest costs of the crisis.

— Amy Vermillion
Owner, The Dripolator Coffeehouse
Black Mountain

Letter hit the mark, left mark on reader

I recently read [the letter “Words From the Front Lines of Mental Illness,” Xpress Jan. 28] by Jeff Long discussing issues on mental-health centers. Not only was I amazed at what a brilliant writer this man is, but [I was] pleased to hear that someone has finally “stood up” to the system and reported the ugly facts and truths of how our mental-health system is operating.

I look forward to reading more articles written by Mr. Long on any opinion/subject. His writing technique dazzled me.

— Erin B. Howell
Salida, Colo.

Peel Orange, find heart of gold

I am writing this letter representing the World AIDS Day Committee, [which is] comprised of several local organizations, to publicly thank and acknowledge the contributions that The Orange Peel has made to this community.

The Buncombe County Health Center, Asheville Parks & Recreation Department, Buncombe County Recreation Services, and the Western North Carolina AIDS Project collaborated to organize events in observance of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, 2003. One of these events was Band AIDS, a high-school battle of the bands on Nov. 23. From the beginning, the staff and management of The Orange Peel supported this event, and were extremely receptive to all of our ideas and needs. The club’s staff took time to create the poster that would publicize our event, and donated the second-place prize: time in a recording studio.

On the day of the event, Orange Peel staff spent all afternoon working with the bands through sound check, preparing the talented youth for this exciting opportunity to play such a high-caliber venue. Much thanks to Dave Hamilton for working diligently with members from the committee to choose the bands and plan the event — and for generally making it happen.

In addition to hosting this HIV-prevention benefit, The Orange Peel has held other events benefiting the Asheville community. Recently, they hosted musical events to benefit the Children’s Center of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Highland Repertory Theatre.

Thanks so much, Orange Peel, for being a conscious community member, and fervently giving back to this town we all love.

— Taryn Strauss
Women and Youth Education Coordinator
Western North Carolina AIDS Project

[Ed. Note: The Orange Peel’s Band AIDS benefit raised $410 for WNCAP, Strauss noted in interview. The money has already gone toward education efforts in HIV prevention.

“My employees really pushed hard for that [benefit],” revealed Lesley Groetsch, who co-owns The Orange Peel with husband Jack. “They did all the legwork.” The club lost money putting on the event, as benefits typically do, siphoning between $1,500 and $5,000 apiece, Groetsch added. “We don’t want to lose money,” she joked. “But we’re committed to helping the community in any way we can.”]

Were we even at the same movie?

In response to Allen Thomas’s letter [“Hey Emperor — You Call Those Clothes?”]in the Feb. 4 Xpress:

Allen, were we even [at] the same movie? To say that [the documentary] Greater Southbridge was an “exploitation of people who actually deserve better,” is to miss the entire point of the [film]. Most of us go out of our way to avoid these “people on the fringe.” Treatment centers are being closed and funding cut as our society hopes that homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness [will] simply fade from sight.

I felt that this movie went a long way [toward humanizing] people who don’t receive the treatment they need, by telling us their story. If these people are to be treated with respect, then it is first necessary to know who they are. That there are so few films about “impaired” people is a testament to the difficulty of broaching the subject with tact. Indeed, any film on this subject could be judged as exploitation.

Greater Southbridge was able to introduce me to the lives of people I would otherwise never know about. The story was that these people are just like you and me, with their own likes and dislikes, prejudices and, most importantly, senses of humor.

— Gawain Mainwaring

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