Phylis Holliday has spent the past 29 years helping members of Friendship Community Center recover from their illnesses. So when she got sick last fall, Mrs. Holliday said, she did what her members do: She leaned on the center for support.
"They know what it's like to be ill and to reach for recovery," said Mrs. Holliday, who underwent radiation therapy for uterine cancer. "So you just can't do it alone. You need help, and that's why Friendship works."
The cancer is now in remission, and Mrs. Holliday said her bout with the disease has inspired her mission: to erase the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
With just three full-time staff members and the occasional volunteer from the Medical College of Georgia and Augusta State University, Mrs. Holliday is changing lives by helping the depressed, the schizophrenic and the bipolar find recovery.
This year, 22 members of the center have found jobs or returned to school.
Last month, her efforts earned her Advocate of the Year honors from the Mental Health Advocacy Coalition, a nationwide group of professionals that lobbies for mental health issues.
More importantly to Mrs. Holliday, the center shows those uncomfortable or unsure around the mentally ill that, with a little love and support, they can function on their own.
"Recovery begins in the community," she said. "It does not begin in the hospital."
As a nurse at University Hospital in the 1970s, Mrs. Holliday became "burned out" because she saw little change in her patients, she said.
That's not the case at the center.
Recently, one of her members lost about 90 pounds after participating in a gym's weight-loss program.
Another is working for the community center as a receptionist after years of alcohol abuse. He was shot in the back while living in New York City and moved South to live with his mother. His mother has died, but now he has a place of his own.
Mrs. Holliday said the best part of the center is that the act of helping others seems to be contagious. Many members stay on for years as volunteers.
"When you needed help and you get help, you're more willing to give help," she said.
The center receives most of its support through the United Way of the CSRA but it is always in need of donations of household items, cosmetics, clothing and anything that will "cheer the members up." It can be reached at (706) 736-4339.
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAMILY: husband, R.A. Holliday; daughters Sheryl Wendzik, Laurie Caldwell, Amy James; son, Rick Holliday; and eight grandchildren.
OCCUPATION: Executive director of Friendship Community Center.
QUOTE: "I never dread coming to work. I feel sorry for people who don't like their jobs."