Prospect House

By Al Shurdom

Author’s note – The opinions expressed here are solely my own, and in no way, shape or form are they the opinions of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Inc.

Within the heart of East Orange, amidst the bustle of a city, stands a bastion of altruism. Prospect House, a salvation for those afflicted with mental illness, homelessness and despair provides the warming embrace of hope for those who enter these aged walls.

When I visited in preparation for this success story, I was not prepared for what I encountered. A dedicated and caring staff led by Beverly Moore Clark line the hallways with a palpable love, respect and dignity that I marveled at. To describe Beverly, briefly, picture every leader you would follow into any situation. Meeting her, I didn’t, at any time, feel like I was meeting a superior. I, instead, felt like I had re-met an old friend. She conveys that ease of leadership and warmth, as effortlessly as water flows.

Beverly’s staff was something to behold. Every single one of them, when I asked them why they do this, gave different versions of the same answer—they are there for the consumers. To make their lives better. To make their lives more enriched. Staffer, Michelange Celamy, put it beautifully when I asked why she does this, and the importance of treating the patrons with respect and dignity, she said “This could be my father, my brother, my sister.”

As I walked up the stairs, to the festive wonderment of their talent show, I was greeted by an angelic voice singing a beautiful gospel song, which set the tenor of the pulchritude I was about to see.

The paragon of this place lies not only with the staff, but within the determined and familial nature of the consumers. Every group I visited, an eager and proud consumer was asked to read the group’s mission statement…their respective group’s constitution, of sorts. They, with their heads held high, and their chests puffed affirm, represented their groups with aplomb. The confidence, the prideful swagger in their gates, as they stood tall for something they believe in, with whole-heart. Their fulfillment beamed like a comforting light, as they read aloud.

Seeing what I was lucky enough to witness at Prospect House, I was reaffirmed. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible. When a proud consumer read their word of the day, to show me, a stranger that was there observing, what she had learned that day, with abounding pride, she beamed with self-respect, with self-confidence that she could do anything, that she could be anything she wanted to be, I was overcome with emotion.

I met the wonderful older adults group who told me what Prospect House means to them, and dreaded the thought of where they would be without it. When I heard the gratitude and humility that glazed their every word, I was humbled.

Prospect House represents everything that is decent and good about humanity. We live in a strange time where bombast, hyperbole and propaganda are sadly and sorely mistaken as strength and leadership. And, seemingly, the dutiful, the compassionate and decent are no longer certain of their place in the world. Inside this building, within the blood stream of Prospect House, duty, compassion and decency are not merely just words–They are the general orders of the sentries that is the staff, they are a way of life…

They are the sinoatrial node that makes its heart beat.

Beverly and her staff, have built something beautiful. To stand by and witness it for the first time, I saw the materialization of the human spirit. I saw what love, kindness and respect can build. It can hold up a building with old bones, and make it shine. It can be a light in the darkness. It showed me, it reminded me, why I’m proud to call people like Beverly, like Junior, like Michelange, like Jennifer, like Sarah, colleagues. It reaffirmed my hope for humankind. It reminded me the perfection that can be attained when we–when humanity–is more.