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Gulf Bend seeks volunteers for center

By Keldy Ortiz
Nov. 18, 2012 at 5:18 a.m.

Dennis Simms, 52, was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 10 years old and has also battled severe depression in his lifetime. Now he volunteers at the Gulf Bend Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center in Victoria where his own experience with mental illness provides him with valuable insight into Gulf Bend's patient's struggles.

To volunteer

Contact Linda McLaughlin, manager of human resources at Gulf Bend Center at 361-575-0611, Ext. 368, or Lmclaughlin@GulfBend.org.

Volunteers fill out an application and go through a routine background check.

Dennis Simms takes pride in greeting and helping patients.

"The opportunity to help patients is a worthwhile thing," said Simms, who is a volunteer at Gulf Bend Center. "I felt it was an opportunity that I could not refuse."

Since its opening 42 years ago, Gulf Bend Center has not used volunteers.

But that is changing.

Serving people who have mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities, Gulf Bendis seeking volunteers.

Megan Tuttle, director of consumer support services at Gulf Bend, said the new venture is an opportunity for the people in the Victoria community to help.

"We've always wanted to include the population to help," Tuttle said. "We want volunteers to come with ideas, but if they know they want to volunteer we have ideas for them."

Simms, 52, went to Gulf Bend without any ideas. But since being there for eight months, Simms said his role as a support specialist volunteer is invaluable.

As a former patient at Gulf Bend, Simms understands that giving back is important, especially since he knows what some of the patients go through.

"Encouragement is what furthers the patients," Simms said. "I want patients to feel worth something."

Volunteers who decide to participate at Gulf Bend will help in the day habilitation program, assisting in teaching classes.

While Tuttle hopes to get more volunteers, marketing and public relations spokeswoman Jessica Dodds hopes to break the belief of people working with those who are disabled.

"There's a stigma regarding mental health, and the idea is to break that barrier," Dodds said. People "can volunteer and help out."

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