Longtime Lawrence residents Charles and Tensie Oldfather have donated $100,000 to the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's Building Independence fund drive.
The donation is the largest the center ever has received, and perhaps the largest ever given by any Kansans in support of community mental health programs, Bert Nash officials said.
Building Independence aims to raise $250,000 for Lawrence's first supported housing for adults with disabling mental illnesses.
Contracts for purchase of a four-plex at 911 Ohio were drawn up Tuesday, said Pat Davis, Bert Nash director of community relations.
To complete the first phase of Building Independence, Davis said, Bert Nash also will seek funds privately and from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
DURING THE first Corinne Miller Memorial Garden Tour, set for May 11-12, the center hopes to raise $15,000 to $20,000 to operate the Ohio Street four-plex.
"If we can raise enough money to do it without HUD money, which comes with severe restrictions, we will do it," Davis said.
Mrs. Oldfather, who served on the Bert Nash board in the 1970s, said it's important to support Lawrence's mental health programs.
"I've always had an interest in mental health and I think it's an important step," she said of the Building Independence project.
Jerry Hannah, director of the fund drive and former state commissioner of mental health and mental retardation, said the Olfathers' gift provides local people with severe mental illness "the opportunity to continue on the road to independence."
"My guess would be these are the first Kansans to make such a sizable gift to such a worthy cause," Hannah said.
SANDRA SHAW, the center's chief executive officer, said the Oldfathers' donation ensures the final step can be taken in an eight-step plan designed to provide comprehensive community services for adults with severe mental illnesses.
At the four-plex, Shaw said, the center will offer support services to help residents succeed in a residential environment. Research shows that housing without adequate support does not help severely mentally ill people, she said.
At the four-plex, Shaw said, residents also will learn basic independent living strategies such as money management, good nutrition and care of living quarters, with the ultimate goal of complete independence.
The new four-plex will house six adults and the support staff, Shaw said, and is envisioned as the first of four to six such residences. She estimated that two dozen to three dozen local people could benefit from the residences.
"The whole purpose is to teach (people) how to keep growing," Shaw said.