Public officials speak out for, against mental health program

NORWICH – Serendipity Cafe, an employment program for clients of the county’s mental health department, has continued to draw both criticism and support from town supervisors.

The debate, which has occurred annually over the past three years, was prompted again this month when county leaders were asked to authorize the acceptance of $10,000 in state aid in order to cover the cost of increased rent for the program’s Eaton Center space. Chenango County Mental Hygiene Services Director Mary Ann Spryn said the New York State Office of Mental Health assistance was for 2007, leaving future rent costs uncertain.

Serendipity Cafe is a vocationally-geared program that offers assisted job training to individuals receiving mental health services and alcohol and drug treatment. Spryn said money earned from sales at the cafe plus an associated shop and meeting room traditionally covers all business-associated costs, including employees.

Commenting on the state’s support, James B. Bays, D-Smyrna, told his fellow members of the health and human services committee May 29 that he appreciated the state’s “sensitivity” to the program. “OMH has responded to this new need because of the uniqueness of the program and the model that it is. When the state shows sensitivity, it is notable.”

Town of Pharsalia Supervisor Dennis Brown expressed a different opinion, however. Speaking before the finance committee May 31, the Democrat asked why competing restaurants don’t receive state aid to afford rent increases and questioned the overall cost to taxpayers versus the success of the program.

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