Friday, August 5, 2011

Lifting a Stigma to Help the Poor

Friday, August 5, 2011

Providing mental-health counseling to low-income New Yorkers has been a professional calling for Maureen M. O'Leary for more than 30 years. It's a deeply personal calling for her, too.


Maureen M. O'Leary

In 1977, Ms. O'Leary enrolled in New York's Training Institute for Mental Health for further study in psychoanalysis and counseling. She stayed on to work in the clinic and then became a faculty member, a senior supervisor and now a trustee for the organization.

"I really never left," says Ms. O'Leary, 69 years old, who also has her own private practice in Manhattan.

The Training Institute provides instruction for mental-health professionals with a clinic where students provide patient treatment under supervision. Many patients come from nearby colleges including the Fashion Institute of Technology and Cooper Union, and pay well below market rate for services. An initial consultation is $25 and then ongoing treatment fees are based on a sliding scale.

A few years ago and with rising rents, the Training Institute was forced to reevaluate its mission and its low rates. The institute needed to move in order to continue providing low-cost services, and ultimately relocated to a building on West 27th Street. The cost of relocation required a capital campaign.

At the same time, a member of Ms. O'Leary's family was doing some genealogical research to learn more about their great grandmother, Sarah A. Meehan.

Ms. O'Leary says that the family knew that her grandfather, Michael J. Meehan, the founder of M.J. Meehan & Co., a New York Stock Exchange specialist firm, had siblings and a father who worked on the railroad. But little was known about his mother.

The research revealed that at age 38, the great-grandmother killed herself in a Hell's Kitchen tenement, says Ms. O'Leary, leaving five children.

"In 1901, there was nothing available, when she was an immigrant and in this tenement," she says. "So it was just so amazing to me that the field I was drawn to had such deep family roots."

Call it kismet, but Ms. O'Leary took the discovery about her great-grandmother and the timing of the Training Institute's need for a new home as a sign to honor one and help the other.

She contacted family members and together they gave about $300,000 in matching gifts toward the organization's capital campaign. An additional letter-writing campaign by Ms. O'Leary to close friends and former associates of the Training Institute, has recently raised an additional $100,000 in scholarships for students.

The clinic that offers counseling services is now named the Sarah A. Meehan Center. Opening the new clinic was a way of "lifting the stigma of her suicide and returning her to our family," says Ms. O'Leary. "We are actually providing what wasn't available to our great-grandmother."

Write to Melanie Grayce West at

Powered By | Full Text RSS Feed | Amazon Plugin | Settlement Statement | WordPress Tutorials

View the original article here


Post a Comment