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New leader of Mental Health America of Lancaster County aims to ‘be the voice for folks that need support’

Intelligencer Journal - 12/4/2018

When she was in grade school, Kim McDevitt served as a translator for her Greek immigrant parents, accompanying them to the bank, talking on the phone with the gas company for them and deciphering documents that came in the mail.

McDevitt, whose family moved to Lancaster when she was 7 years old, said taking on those early responsibilities helped build her self-image as a helper, which is part of the reason she was drawn to social service work.

But McDevitt says another reason she chose her career path is that she experienced depression in her teens, even as she was named a member of the homecoming court at McCaskey High School and the treasurer of her class.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to overcome some of that,” she said about her depression, while adding that she developed sympathy for those who may continue to struggle.

McDevitt, who studied psychology and special education at Millersville University, initially worked at social service agencies before taking leadership roles at nonprofits, including five years as executive director at Power Packs Project, which provides nutritious weekend meals to needy school children.

But in her new position as executive director of Mental Health America of Lancaster County, McDevitt says she feels like she’s really fulfilling her purpose.

“I think nonprofit work is my dream job and it seems like every step of the way has led me here,” said McDevitt, who has been in the job a little more than a month.

“I think anywhere where I can help support and be the voice for folks that need support is my dream job,” she says.

On a mission

The mission of Mental Health America of Lancaster County is to promote mental health through awareness, advocacy and education, which it does by offering support groups, conducting training and acting as a general resource for clinicians and people seeking help.

“We’re almost like the hub for everything from mental health to mental illness,” she said. “We help provide the access for services, because it’s a complex system.”

Situated in the Manheim Township office complex at 630 Janet Ave., Mental Health America of Lancaster County operates with a staff of six and an annual budget around $440,000.

But its small size belies the outsized influence the organization has had in Lancaster County, especially under Mary Steffy who led it for more than 30 years before retiring in 2012, then returning for a brief stint three years later as interim executive director.

Before taking the job, McDevitt met Steffy, saying she felt a kinship with the former spokeswoman and advocate for all kinds of mental health issues.

“She just kind of reminds me of myself, in the passion for the cause, for the mission,” McDevitt says.

As the new face of Mental Health America of Lancaster County, McDevitt says she is eager to help the organization grow by elevating its profile and focusing more on raising money from private sources, including during the upcoming Extraordinary Give in Lancaster.

“That’s the piece we need to do better on, that is building awareness, because people don’t even know we are here,” she said. “If people don’t know about you, they can’t support you.”

Changing attitudes

While attitudes about mental health issues have improved, McDevitt says people still suffer needlessly, laboring under an outdated notion of what it means to have a mental illness.

“Not everyone knows that the symptoms they’re exhibiting are symptoms that can be treated,” she says. “It’s not an emotional problem. It’s a physical problem.”

The 49-year-old Manheim Township resident says she is particularly focused on Mental Health America of Lancaster County’s role in suicide prevention groups.

McDevitt points out that in a county where the economy is doing well and many people appear happy and rich, depression can still be crippling.

“You could be somebody who is financially secure, but if you’re suffering from depression, you can’t enjoy those things,” she says.

And in a county that prizes self-sufficiency, McDevitt says people sometimes just need a little encouragement to get some help, along with the understanding that they’re just putting themselves back on the right track.

“We’re such a county of ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.’ Well, we help people find their bootstraps,” she says.

Credit: CHAD UMBLE | Staff Writer


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