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Mental health care community honors trailblazer

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By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos Family Council founder Margaret Browne was the honored guest at the organization’s 45-year anniversary celebration Thursday at Los Alamos National Bank. All eyes were on Browne, 84, as she addressed current and former employees and board members, and the public. “It’s been a joy to work with this group through the years,” Browne said. “I’ve worked with some wonderful people.”The crowd clearly felt the same way about her. “Margaret is just a miracle that we’ve been fortunate to have,” said Family Council Executive Director Joy Beery. Beery has led the nonprofit mental health organization since 2001. The Central Office and former Los Alamos High School administrator first worked with Browne in the 1980s. “Back then, Margaret would come to the schools and provide consultative services to administrators and counselors before they had psychologists and social workers,” Beery said. “I had a lot of experience with this (Family Council) so it was exciting to come to work here knowing its history and knowing several people on the board whom I admired for their dedication.”Beery credited Browne for starting many programs in the community through the years including most of the senior services, the Day Out program, RSVP, support services for the home bound and summer jobs for teens. Browne also helped design the Betty Ehart Senior Center, Beery said, adding, “Margaret is just a fantastic person.”Therapist Nancy Tenbrink worked with Browne for 19 years. “She was wonderful to work with ... so supportive,” Tenbrink said.Therapist Janet Tallman agreed, recalling her 25-30 years working with Browne. “Margaret was so wonderful to work with, that unless they moved, no one ever wanted to leave the Family Council,” Tallman said. “Because of how wonderful Margaret was to work with, she always had such a stable staff and board.”Board member Phyllis Bailey, a Family Council therapist from 1994-1999, supervised the organization’s addictions program. As soon as she retired in 1999, she was asked to serve on the board. “In 2001, then executive director Penny Kane had an untimely death,” Bailey said. “So I went off the board and served as acting executive director for three months until Joy Beery was hired.”Baily went back on the board and has served three consecutive two-year terms, including two as president. “I think this (45-year anniversary) is an incredible achievement in the field of mental health anywhere and a beautiful honor to Margaret Browne who has been a mentor to me in many ways,” Bailey said.The Rev. Colin Kelly, a board member, described the Los Alamos Family Council as “a great organization.” Kelly added, “It fills such a tremendous need in a community like this.”Cheryl Pongratz has served as program director of the Counseling Center at the Family Council for four years. She explained the organization is comprised of three programs, each with its own director. Beside the Counseling Center, there is the Youth Activities Center headed for 25 years by Paul Martinez and the Community Health Council led by Bernadette Lauitzen. The Family Council serves as fiscal agent and coordinator of the Community Health Council, Pongratz said. About reaching its 45-year anniversary, Pongratz said, “I think it’s amazing because funding challenges of mental health services locally, statewide and nationally are overwhelming. But we’ve received so much community support, especially from United Way, Los Alamos County and many individual donors to make this milestone possible.”Retired Piñon Elementary School principal Peggy Kruse has known and worked with Browne for many years. As she pinned a corsage on Browne, Kruse said, “I don’t know any person in our town – and we’ve had many wonderful people – who’s done more for us.”   Therapist Rick Church is the clinical supervisor at Family Council. “This organization is the only one of its kind providing mental health services not only for people with insurance but for those who cannot afford to pay,” Church said. “Mental health care has traditionally been sort of viewed as the stepchild of the health care field but more and more it’s becoming seen as equal to other health care in terms of importance in funding it ... Congress is working on a mental health care priority bill to pay the same as for regular health care problems...” A long list of community members turned out to share in Thursday’s momentous event including Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados, County Council Vice Chair Mike Wheeler, County Councilor Robert Gibson, Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Jim Anderson and former assistant superintendent Barbara Lange, United Way of Northern New Mexico Executive Director Donna Schroeder and many others. The planning committee who put the event together includes Lange, Kruse and retired Mountain Elementary School Principal Emily Engel.The Los Alamos Family Council is located at 1505 15th St., Suite A, and can be reached at 662-3264.