Thank you to everyone who joined us for our 2017 Riverbend Champions for Mental Health Awards on October 18th! It was a wonderful evening of community and inspiration, and we are so pleased we could honor John and David Constant and Dellie Champagne for their tireless work to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
When Dellie Champagne’s son was three, his preschool teachers told her: “Something isn’t right.” It was at that moment that Dellie rolled up her sleeves and committed herself to helping her son, Peter, and with that commitment Dellie eventually helped many others facing similar challenges.
Peter was definitively diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) when he was seven and began treatment at Riverbend. So began the journey to understand AS and advocate for Peter by educating those around him. When Peter was 12, Peter’s therapist at Riverbend told Dellie and her husband that she was seeing the early adolescent onset signs of a serious mental illness. And so began another journey of learning about schizoaffective disorder and advocating for Peter’s needs. Little did Dellie know this would be a full-time job.
Through her many hours of volunteer work , Dellie has developed a clear understanding of how mental health services can be better, and help her son and family more effectively. She has joined forces with a several agencies and tirelessly give her skills and energy to grassroots initiatives to create positive change and spread awareness. Letter writing, speeches, presentations, PSA’s, anti-stigma campaigns, and “holding official’s feet to the fire” is a general overview of the advocacy work Dellie has done over the years.
Throughout all of her work, a common thread has been about erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness and treatment. She freely and openly talks to anyone about her son and her family’s story. Dellie tells people that having a mental illness is no different than having cancer or diabetes. She says that families experiencing a psychiatric crisis deserve a casserole brought to their home just like the family whose loved one is recovering from an operation or heart attack.
Because of her expansive lived experience, Dellie recently enrolled in graduate school to get a second master’s degree – this one in mental health counseling.
Dellie works for the NH Judicial Branch and currently serves on the PAIMI Council and the NFI North Board. She also devotes her efforts to the Change Direction campaign. She lives in Concord with her husband and two sons.
John and David Constant opened their first Constantly Pizza location in Tilton just a year after David graduated from Concord High School in 1989. David and his brother John, who was two years older, had been planning a restaurant business together for a few years, and they jumped right in when an opportunity in Tilton presented itself. Since then, the business has grown, operated from multiple locations, and become successful through a lot of hard work and long hours.
But at least one of the ingredients for success has been the brother’s commitment to including those with intellectual and/or behavioral health challenges into their workforce whenever they could. For many adults in the Concord area, a job at Constantly Pizza has represented a critically important first step into the community — and toward greater self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and independence.
The business practiced “supported employment” long before the concept was formalized into an actual program at organizations like Easter Seals and Riverbend. Constantly Pizza quickly became known as a place where adults with special needs could find work. Sometimes the work might involve coming in each morning and helping with set-up tasks – just a couple hours a day. For someone else, the work might start with coming in at a certain time only once a week to break down cardboard and organize the recycling — and eventually progress to more hours and responsibilities. It all depends on the person and the situation.
More than a few of the special needs adults employed by Constantly Pizza over the years have left and come back several times. They may leave for another job and it doesn’t work out — or sometimes their illness interferes — but the Constant brothers understand the power of second (and third) chances — and they have never second-guessed their commitment to helping special needs adults in this way.
In fact, both David and John believe that their some of their very best employees through the years include several special needs adults — and “best” isn’t just about being on time and fulfilling basic responsibilities. For the Constant brothers, it’s also about the positive impact these employees have on the entire workplace.
It is businesses like Constantly Pizza that make our community such a great place to live and work!
2006 Champion: Christine M. McMahon