WILBRAHAM — When Matthew Kowal, golf course superintendent at the Country Club of Wilbraham, learned through a member of his team, Kevin Lee, that young men in a residential rehabilitation-services program at the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) were in need of winter coats, he was a man on a mission. And so were his team and others at the club. Lee was key in communicating the needs of MHA’s young men as his wife, Kimberley Lee, works for MHA.
“I went to my staff and our head golf professional, Bobby Downes, and asked for coats,” Kowal said. “Bobby and Kyle Whitney, who also works at the club, teamed up. We all thought it was a good cause and a way to give back to the community.”
Their coat drive netted close to 70 hooded sweatshirts, parkas, jackets, and an assortment of both light and heavy winter coats for the men who are between 18 and 26 and in MHA’s GRIT Ridgewood program.
Kowal said he was “very proud” of his crew for their effort and wished the young men in the program “the best.”
“Most of the guys brought in two or three coats,” he said. “My crew is like family — we have been together at least 10 years. I can’t say enough about them as workers here, but then to take time out of their busy schedules and lives to do this is another feather in their cap.”
Housed in a restored Victorian home in Springfield, MHA’s GRIT Ridgewood program is designed for individuals in the very early stages of recovery from a substance-use disorder and a co-occurring mental-health diagnosis.
“This time of year, we have individuals coming into the program, and they are coming in with very little other than the clothes on their back and a small backpack,” said Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding. “Because of the winter months coming, we knew there would be a need for coats. My husband took that need to heart and thankfully communicated that to the crew at the country club.
“To have collected close to 70 coats, good coats, says a lot about the effort every single person at the club put into making sure the drive was successful,” she went on. “A lot of pride goes into their work at the club, and a lot of pride went into the coat drive.”
An added bonus, she said, was that Rebeca Merigian, owner of Springfield-based Park Cleaners, heard about the drive and offered “to dry clean every single coat so that, when the young men receive them, they will be like new.”
Merigian said it was a need she wanted to fill for a number of reasons. “We wanted to give back to our community in a way that we can. We understand the importance of cleanliness, especially during this pandemic, and wanted to fill this need. We wanted to show that we support our community members on their road to wellness. The struggles are harder than ever, and we wanted to make one less headache.”
Lee said some of the men, aware of the success of the drive and that they would be getting freshly cleaned coats, were surprised by the response from people who are strangers to them.
“This is a new concept to have people who do not know you to be concerned and want to see them succeed and to wish them the best of luck in what is now a lifelong journey,” Kimberley Lee said. “The path that we are supporting them on at MHA is one we hope they can sustain, and when you have a community of people around you who want to see you succeed and who want to see you be productive and have a positive life, it helps in their recovery.”
She added, “it may look like a simple coat or represent a simple coat, but, really, there is so much more meaning behind it. It is so significant to the folks we serve.”
GRIT Ridgewood, which has 16 beds, opened a year ago. To make a referral or learn more, call (844) MHA-WELL.