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Melissa's House founders

Goldbergs want to remove 'stigma' of mental illness

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The founders of Melissa's House at 100 Jefferson Ave. in east Columbus say the facility will help mentally ill people learn to live independently.
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After their daughter, Melissa Beth Goldberg, died in 2006, Elaine and Nate Goldberg wanted to help others struggling with mental illnesses.

The Goldbergs say Melissa's House, the home leased by the Melissa's House Foundation at 100 Jefferson Ave. in east Columbus, will be "where hope lives."

They're raising money to improve the 133-year-old historic structure owned by the Jefferson Center for Learning and the Arts.

"A huge part of our mission is to build education and awareness about mental illness," Elaine Goldberg said.

She said the Melissa's House Foundation will restore the building to include meeting spaces for mental-health support groups and provide a "community-type" atmosphere for mental-health programs, including a yoga studio, art room and a teaching kitchen.

"We want people to learn how to be independent and live on their own," Goldberg said.

She said many support groups now meet in dingy basements.

"The stigma around mental illness already is apparent; they don't need to hide in basements," she said. "The stigma is huge surrounding mental illness. It's what keeps people from seeking help and makes family members embarrassed to talk about it. ... People are afraid to tell their employers for fear of being fired."

The renovation will begin next June. Later next summer, foundation officials hope to break ground on a 10-unit facility linked to the Jefferson Avenue property.

Goldberg said the new facility will provide 10 one-bedroom apartments where mentally ill people will learn to live independently.

"It's a one-of-a-kind project," she said.

Goldberg, a Blacklick resident, said she and her husband researched the idea and found many group homes but nothing like Melissa's House.

Originally, the project was slated for Gahanna. In 2010, the foundation sought to change the zoning on Beecher Crossing North to construct a residential building for mentally ill residents.

Gahanna City Council denied the zoning request in May 2010 after listening to neighboring residents say they did not think the change was appropriate.

Discussions became heated at times during the zoning process, and, Goldberg said, the foundation board has since changed its plan to open the education and support center first, then build the residential units.

"We're very excited that we do have the support of so many people in the community," Goldberg said, mentioning the nearby Columbus College of Art and Design and the Ohio State University, both of which are partnering with Melissa's House on the project.

"We'll use the space (on Jefferson Avenue) for programming and it will be used by many, many different organizations," she said.

The project is expected to cost $5 million, which includes $1 million for construction, $1 million for operating costs and $2 million for an endowment to support the project. According to the Melissa's House website, the foundation has raised $1.25 million.

The next fundraiser to support Melissa's House is Play Fore Melissa's House, a golf outing to be held from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Winding Hollow Golf Club, 6140 Babbitt Road, New Albany.

Last year's event attracted 134 golfers and raised $115,000, according to the Melissa's House website.

For information, email info@melissashouse.org or visit melissashouse.org.

The next informational program through Melissa's House will be held Nov. 4 at the Gateway Theater, 1550 N. High St. in Columbus.

The program, Living and Loving with Mental Illness, features the film Call Me Crazy produced by actress Jennifer Aniston.

The program is geared toward Ohio State students, Goldberg said.

She said Melissa's college roommates first noticed Melissa was acting strangely and they contacted her family for help.

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