As part of our Proud To Serve series, we here at FOX61 are featuring local first responders and veterans, and highlighting the great work that they do.
For February’s segment, we are showcasing the Honor Wellness Center in Manchester, a one stop shop of services hoping to serve those who have served us.
“In February 2011, I was involved in a shooting where I was forced to kill as suspect,” said Justin P. Lord, a former SWAT member, and Hartford and Wethersfield police officer.
Lord served as a police officer for 12 years before ultimately retiring, citing that incident as a major reason for his decision to leave the job.
“Social isolation was a big thing for me,” said Lord. “I felt along, definitely depressed and anxious.”
Following his traumatic incident, Lord was introduced to Phyllis DiGioia, a licensed clinical social worker who is now the executive director of the Honor Wellness Center in Manchester.
“The Honor Wellness Center serves a purpose in developing not only that treatment network with different clinicians throughout the state ,” said DiGioia. “Also having an intense outpatient treatment program here that we can provide therapeutic psychoeducational groups for first responders and veterans to treat those addictions traumas and mental health issues.”
“There’s never been one place where someone could go that is struggling and needs help and have a wide array of resources like that on our wellness center provides,” said Suffield Captain Chris McKee, who is also a board member at the center.
From therapy, to addiction services like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, to yoga, tai chi, and other mental health outlets, the center is open to all first responders.
“First responders respond immediately to help us, so Honor Wellness Center is geared towards responding immediately to them,” said DiGioia. “That’s how their brain is programmed, we want to make sure that our 911 response to them is just as respectful and humble to the respective cultures from where they came.”
The center also offers help to family members of first responders.
“Family members, yeah their struggles are real, and that’s where our first responders go home to, that’s their primary support system,” said McKee.
“They’re kind of like the forgotten heroes the people that are behind the scenes,” said Lord.
Lords said he is now looking to transition to a role within the center, and hopes to help others who are going through experiences much like his.
“We put a lot of value on being able to help others,” said Lord. “It’s kind of cliché but if you can’t help yourself, you’re really not much help to anyone else, so my message is you’re not alone, and we’re out here and we can help.”
The Honor Wellness Center, which opened on December 3 of 2018, will eventually accept all forms of insurance but stress its services will be available to first responders and their families regardless of circumstances.
“We will not say no, so even if there is a first responder or veteran can’t pay for services, we will find a way,” said DiGioia. “Right now we are also taking private donations as well as a private applying for federal and state grant money to fund the Honor Wellness Foundation, which will help pay for those services that a first responder or a veteran cannot pay for.”
The Honor Wellness Center is still growing, and board members say they are always looking for new additions to their staff, as well as volunteers and donations. If you would like to help, or learn more, go here.