This book is dedicated to you, the hundreds of endearing personalities who called Richardson House and East Samaria home during the twenty years I had the privilege of serving you. The vast majority of you were living with mental illness, and many of you were suddenly abandoned by the institutions where you had been living for years. Those institutions had made no preparations for you to live independently or for society to accept you. Every one of you had an enormous cross to bear and you usually carried yours with dignity, cheer and an admirable resolve to make the most of your life within the limitations imposed by your burden.
I witnessed some amazing stories during those years and learned much about you. I learned first that you are lovable, caring people without big egos or pretense. I learned how to laugh with you, to celebrate and have fun with you and when things went wrong, how to cry with you. Before opening Richardson House, I held the same stereotypes as most others about people who live with mental illness, and I have to confess I didn't go into business having the mission in mind of making a better life for you. I just had a nearly empty building to fill and frankly you were the first people to knock on the door. But, I have to tell you, it didn't take long before I could see beyond your sometimes quirky behavior and mannerisms, and your different way of dressing. Then, as I got to know you better each day, I noticed the pain in your eyes and on your face whenever someone made a cruel or insensitive remark about you. Many of you were bewildered after living on the inside for so long, and you became frustrated when you didn't know how to handle a situation. I soon discovered you were sensitive, self-conscious, sometimes very intelligent and, to be honest, sometimes not so intelligent. I discovered you were loyal, and you supported one another, forming close friendships. I even learned that you could fall in love, and you could feel hurt just as much as the person reading this right now.
I began to realize that in many ways, living with mental illness is similar to living with any other kind of handicap, except that for many of you it manifests itself in your unconventional, sometimes even bizarre behavior and appearance. When that happens, it's as though someone placed a large "kick me" sign on your back. So instead of receiving the sympathy and charitable treatment offered to those who suffer from some of the other obvious afflictions, you are often shunned and ridiculed, adding even more to the weight of the cross you bear. Within these buildings that were your home, you found some comfort and support in being always surrounded by others who experienced the same challenges as you. Your mutual goals and knowing everyone around you was in the same boat helped you to relax and enjoy your life to the fullest without being judged. You lived in a community of your peers, but were always free to explore beyond.
And so my dear friends, it is with much respect and affection that I dedicate each page of this book to you with the hope that others reading here will glean the benefits of an optional alternative to the small group home model; a place where, while enjoying the support and brotherhood offered by a community of peers, life can be lived to the fullest. I hope also that this book will introduce you to its readers who will then be able to see you through my eyes and by getting to know you, reveal your endearing personalities as reason to be open to your friendship and to accept you into their lives.
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