This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
When one walks into Channel Marker’s new 19,000-square foot Regional Wellness Center on Glebe Park Drive, there is an immediate sense of peace and wellness. As visitors enter the building, they are greeted with a view of a lush courtyard, complete with a pond and garden, around which the building was constructed. The 30-year old building was once the home to Delmarva Data Center. Newly purposed, the space will now be home to Channel Marker’s 60 staff members and 400 clients, just in time for celebrating the organization’s 35th anniversary year.
Debbye Jackson, Executive Director of Channel Marker, comments, “It’s very intentional that this is a bright and welcoming space as we are all about providing wellness to our clients.”
For 35 years, Channel Marker has changed the lives of people living with severe and persistent mental illness by improving independence, quality of life and life skills. The new building is a testament to the perseverance and determination of Debbye, who has made the organization’s mission live and breathe, “to promote mental health by providing prevention programs, rehabilitation and community services to individuals and their families.”
According to Debbye, who has been with Channel Marker for 32 years, Channel Marker, Inc. opened its doors in 1982, operating out of donated space in churches. Over time, the organization embarked on a campaign to build facilities to have a permanent place in communities in Talbot, Caroline and Dorchester counties.
Debbye comments, “Our role is to be a mental health support services provider, promoting health and well-being and really improving the independence of the people we serve in these counties.”
Channel Marker serves approximately 400 people annually, almost 50% of whom are under the age of 21. Channel Marker’s services increase social and problem solving skills, job readiness, illness management and substance abuse recovery. Services are provided in day and residential settings in all three counties of the Mid-Shore by a dedicated staff whom have a personal and caring relationship with the individual, intrinsic persons who live with organic brain disease through no fault of their own.
Chad Hill, family member of a client and Channel Marker Board Member, comments, “It’s a place where clients come to flourish, to live fully. To have a brother in the program, we are witness to that. He has us, his family, and he also has his Channel Marker family.”
The Channel Marker Foundation, Inc. was created in 1988 to hold title to and maintain the Channel Marker-owned properties to be acquired through grants and fundraising. The first owned permanent Channel Marker building at 222 Port Street in Easton was dedicated in 1989. Over time, other facilities have been added in other counties, including locations at 420 Dorchester Avenue in Cambridge, and 508 Kerr Avenue in Denton.
According to Debbye, the Talbot programs have outgrown their spaces and the decision was made to consolidate the Talbot County operations into one central space.
In 2015, the boards of Channel Marker, Inc. and the Channel Marker Foundation decided to purchase the facility at 8865 Glebe Park Drive. Debbye states, “The new space will enable us to solidify the services we provide in one space. We are also looking to develop partnerships with other organizations around the care we can now provide.”
Channel Marker recently announced its $2 million Capital Campaign, “Opening New Doors to Wellness,” which will enable the organization to repay the Foundation’s loan to purchase the building. This will allow the Foundation’s resources to be available to support the programming needs of Channel Marker and to maintain and improve the properties the Foundation already owns.
Tolbert Rowe, Volunteer Executive Director of Channel Marker Foundation, says, “It’s the culmination of a 35-year history into a single-focused facility that consolidates all aspects of the business – administration and programs and now the medical component. The building will allow Channel Marker to offer a full continuum of services for its clients – one stop shopping and it will be a hub for Dorchester and Caroline county clients. Everyone from all three counties will benefit.” Tolbert adds, “The next phase will be to evaluate and take advantage of the six-acre parklike environment surrounding the building to also benefit the wellness of the clients we serve.”
The new building will provide improved access to psychiatric and health professionals to its clients in a dedicated medical wing. In 2013, Channel Marker was approved to become a Health Home provider in the Maryland Public Mental Health System, coordinating care with local primary care providers to better serve the health needs of their clients. According to Debbye, Channel Marker’s clients’ medical issues are as significant as their mental health issues. She adds that data shows that people with mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population. The new facility will address this issue by having a Registered Nurse, Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatrist on site.
Debbye states, “It’s a different service now. We figured out that someone else wasn’t taking care of our clients’ other needs. We now have 100 percent of our clients connected to a primary care physician. We are now opening new doors to a Regional Wellness Center where mental health and wellness services will now be available as part of the menu of services we provide to clients.” She adds, “Integrating primary care with mental health and substance use services is a trend nationally. We are really making an impact on the health of our clients.”
Channel Marker’s new building will also house many of the administrative and program services previously situated in rented properties. The administrative staff has already moved into their new space and Debbye anticipates that the programs will move in to the building at the end of the summer. The administrative wing includes administrative offices, a mail room and several conference rooms. The program section of the new building will expand the space available for programming activities and will include two lounges – one for transition age youth (ages 18-25) and one for adults, a computer lab with work stations, a large teaching kitchen and pantry, a dining area, two large group activity rooms and a gym with exercise equipment, locker rooms and showers.
When shown the plans for the new space, one Channel Marker client said, “I believe that the new building is going to be like heaven.”
Clients are already vested in the new building. Channel Marker’s Caroline program has provided the majority of the clients employed on the work crews who have been heavily involved in getting the Phase 1 portion of the building ready for occupancy. They have been involved in tearing out old carpet, helping to replace ceiling tile, refurbishing the garden and atrium area and, most importantly, the painting project which has been a significant cost savings for the organization. Debbye adds, “These clients are paid minimum wage or better for their work hours. We will continue to have opportunities for maintenance type work in order to keep this facility up and functioning.”
Channel Marker’s $2 million Capital Campaign includes opportunities for naming from $1 million to $5,000. Funds raised in excess of $2 million will provide an endowment fund for the organization. Both Channel Marker and the Channel Marker Foundation are 501(c)3 organizations with Boards of Directors comprised of community members from the three counties served.
Debbye comments, “We know that many, many people living with mental illness can lead happy, fulfilled lives when given the right support. We are eager for people to visit our new building so that we can provide additional information about our services and campaign.”
A video about Channel Marker and the building can be viewed at “Channel Marker Capital Campaign” on You Tube. For further information or to tour the new facility, contact Debbye Jackson, Executive Director of Channel Marker, at 410-822-4619 or visit channelmarker.org.