Many people enjoy conferences and look forward to that one time during the year when they can gather with others for education, encouragement, sharing, seeing old friends, and socializing.
For one group in Alabama, April is that special time and Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center is the place for more than 800 men and women to attend the Alabama Institute for Recovery. Participants come from individual homes and apartments, shelter facilities, group homes, local mental health centers, and other residential living situations. All of them are in recovery or are on the path to recovery from a myriad of mental illnesses, but for three days each year they leave their daily life to enjoy time for education and encouragement in a beautiful environment.
Mike Autrey, Director of Peer Programs for the Alabama Department of Mental Health, has watched the number of participants climb during the last 26 years. “One unique thing about this conference is that many of those who attend are drawing disability benefits and cannot afford to pay much, so at least 650 of the 800 who come pay ten dollars and receive a scholarship for the remainder of the cost.” This benefit is the result of a contract between the Department of Mental Health and Shocco Springs.
From noon on Monday until after lunch on Wednesday conference attendees are treated to outstanding facilities and food, along with hearing from well-known keynote speakers and workshop leaders.
Workshops include a variety of topics relevant to those who attend, such as: integrating wellness into recovery; suicide prevention; latest research on neuroscience; job preparation; family relationships; music and recovery; and even therapeutic houseplants.
One year, a past Miss Homecoming at one of the largest universities in the state spoke about her recovery from mental health illness. According to Autrey, “She had a great story, and she especially related to the young people who were present.”
While these more somber topics provide much practical information and education, there are some lighter moments, also. The conference sponsors an art show and participants are encouraged to bring and display various works of art. Wings Across Alabama, a statewide non-profit organization for consumers of mental health services, coordinates the art show as well as a room for creating arts and crafts items during the conference.
One of the most popular activities is the session on ballroom dance, which is offered every year. Autrey credits the class with helping people “come out of their shell and feel comfortable with themselves.”
Shocco Springs has proven to be the perfect place for this annual meeting, even though the conference center is a Baptist facility and the conference is sponsored by a state agency. During the 26 years of the conference’s history, 20 have been held at Shocco Springs. “This is a beautiful place and our folks feel like they are on vacation while they are here. The Shocco Springs employees are great hosts; they do everything they can to make our group comfortable and to meet our needs for facilities. If one of the employees sees one of our people needing help, they go out of their way to help.”
To obtain more information about the Alabama Institute for Recovery, contact Michael Autrey at 334-242-3456 or email at Michael.Autrey@mh.Alabama.gov.