Clara Martin Ctr. 50 Years Strong

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Front Page / Jan. 12, 2017 9:08am EST

Mental Health Agency Celebrates at Chandler
By Audrey Seaman


The Clara Martin Center celebrated creativity in mental health wellness with a night of music, art, and poetry at Chandler Music Hall Saturday night. Above, Dawn Hancy of Vershire enjoys a cupcake and the art exhibit in the Esther Mesh Room. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) The Clara Martin Center celebrated creativity in mental health wellness with a night of music, art, and poetry at Chandler Music Hall Saturday night. Above, Dawn Hancy of Vershire enjoys a cupcake and the art exhibit in the Esther Mesh Room. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) An upstairs gallery of Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall was buzzing Saturday evening with chatter and praise as community members viewed the acrylic paintings, pottery, cross stitch, sculptures, and poetry that filled the room.

The artwork shared stories of new beginnings, independence and hardships. For Marla Simpson, a Randolph resident and client of the Clara Martin Center mental health agency since 2001, her paintings told the stories of love and family.

Simpson was one of several mental health clients to share their creative works at Clara Martin Center’s 50th anniversary celebration. The entire evening recognized creativity in mental health, wellness and recovery, starting with an art and writing show and ending with a performance by Me2/Orchestra, a classical music organization created for individuals with mental illness and the people who support them.


The Me2/ Orchestra, which includes some musicians who suffer from mental illness, performs Brahms Saturday night. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) The Me2/ Orchestra, which includes some musicians who suffer from mental illness, performs Brahms Saturday night. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) “I’m so very proud of Clara Martin,” Simpson said. “I have weathered quite a few storms with them, and it’s just wonderful to see their 50th birthday celebrated so nicely.” Over the 15 years Simpson has been a client, she said she has watched the agency establish deep roots. “It’s important to support this part of the community, because it really is a part of the community. It’s not separate.”

That togetherness is what Clara Martin Center’s Executive Director Linda Chambers focuses on for a strong future. “It was an amazing showing of what people can do when they thrive in their community, and I couldn’t be more proud,” she said of the event. “It was a big reminder of the huge investment made in the state of Vermont and how every community uses their resources for what works in their community.”

“Fifty years ago, these folks wouldn’t be walking around. They would be in group homes, often forgotten and left for years,” Chambers said. “I’m honored to have grown up in this era of change and grateful to be a part of making dreams happen.”

All Are Welcome

The Clara Martin Center offers an array of services, from youth and substance abuse programs, to transitional living, child and family programs, emergency services, and more.

“We try to bring the programming to the community in a way that works for the people we’re seeing, and then we work to bring that message to the state,” Chambers said. “That’s a big part of what we offer.”

Clara Martin Center’s public relations’ staffer Heidi Goodrich said she is always amazed at how willing people are to help others.

“The folks that work here definitely believe in that to their core, and it’s always at the forefront of every decision they’re making.”

Goodrich said the agency focuses on accessibility for its service area of 34 small towns. “For the folks stuck up in the hills, they don’t have easy access to see a therapist,” Goodrich said. “When you’re ready to reach out for help, you don’t want to have any other barriers in your way.”

People Helping People

From the desk of the executive director, Chambers sees the inequity of funding to help train qualified professionals to work at the Clara Martin Center as one of the biggest challenges facing the agency right now.

This year, the agency saw a particularly high turnover rate in employees, Chambers noted.

“We’re running into competition with the state because they’re able to pay better benefits,” she said. “It puts more of a challenge on us to be able to thrive.”

Each time a new employee joins the Clara Martin Center, Chambers makes sure to meet with them personally. “Staff are our biggest resource and they all have their different strengths and abilities.”

In order to capitalize on the skills each employee brings to the agency, Chambers has established a monthly brown bag lunch series that focuses on professional development. At these events, staff members take turns offering training to their coworkers.

“Our staff have to go through training every two years to stay licensed,” she said “And this is an unfunded mandate for us.”

Despite such staffing challenges, Chambers is positive about the agency’s future. “I hope that in 10 years we’re still able to offer quality services at a local level with enough professional staff, and that the community continues to benefit from the strength its citizens bring.”

Strong Women

Clara Martin and her husband Brewster moved to Orange County in 1953. Brewster worked as a physician and Clara as his assistant. After starting a small nursing home for local residents, Clara developed a concern for those she saw challenged by mental illness.

In 1966, Clara took action and began providing services at Orange County Mental Health, to later be named after her. Today, the Clara Martin Center is a community-based, nonprofit organization that provides acute and long-term behavioral health care services for people of any age.

Goodrich said she sees close ties between the person Clara Martin was and the person Linda Chambers is today.

“I really see Linda as having a lot of the same qualities that Clara did when she started this 50 years ago,” she said. “Linda really has a vision for the future and can anticipate change and adjust the organization so that we’re flexible.”

When Chambers first began her career as a clinician with the Clara Martin Center over 33 years ago, she worked out of a closet. “We didn’t even have offices then, so I made the closet into my office.”

Just as she did with her first office space, Chambers continues to make the best out of the resources she has today. “I’m always keeping up with what’s happening with health care reform,” she said. “All of that impacts the people who walk through our door every day. They need our support.”

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