For more than three decades, Lynne Loresch, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Washington County, has spent her days – and many nights and weekends – fighting stigma and assisting people who are dealing with mental health issues find help, jobs and meaning in life, despite the daily challenges they face.
With Loresch at the helm, the Mental Health Association grew from a volunteer agency with a budget of $21,000 in 1985 to a large nonprofit with a budget of more than $2 million and a staff of 60 employees who assist approximately 2,500 people in Washington County annually through its programs and services.
On Thursday, Loresch retired, at the age of 69.
Reflecting on her time at the Mental Health Association, Loresch said, “The thing I’m most proud of, I suppose, is turning (the Mental Health Association) from basically a volunteer organization into a professional one, and being able to offer all kinds of services from housing to advice to teaching skills. I’m pleased when I look at what we’ve achieved.”
She pointed to a housing campus in Bentleyville operated by the Mental Health Association, where 28 people live – 16 people in a long-term structured residence and 12 people in an enhanced personal care home. The LTSR, Loresch said, boasts a success rate of 83 percent of preparing residents to return home.
“I’m a strong believer that everybody can reach a level of success in the community, given the right support,” said Loresch. “We are so lucky in Washington County that we have a really large array of services, a lot of caring staff and people in the community who work hard to help people. That has been a joy to watch.”
Loresch said her decision to retire was personal.
A mother of two, she plans to spend more time with her two grandchildren, who live near Austin, Texas.
“It’s time. I’m going to be 70 years old, I’ve been here 31 years. That’s a long time,” said Loresch. “I have a family that I really want to be more available to. I want to be with my children, grandchildren and my extended family.”
Bracken Burns, past president of the Mental Health Association, credits Loresch with starting direct services that have helped mentally ill throughout the county, including housing at the Bentleyville LTSR and the Representative Payee Program, which assists consumers who require assistance with their financial affairs.
Other programs Loresch implemented during her tenure include mobile psychiatric rehabilitation and Circle Center, a drop-in center that provides peer counseling and social opportunities.
“She is someone who is very passionate about the mentally ill and has made a huge difference in Washington County. The center in Bentleyville, which has two sub-sites for people with acute mental illness, is a testament to her work. It didn’t exist before she came to us. She created it pretty much out of whole cloth,” said Burns. “She’s a good administrator who isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get things done or hold a fundraiser.”
Under Loresch, the annual Wine, Jazz and Pops festival has become a must-attend event, and the MHA has operated the Henry Covered Bridge during the Washington County Covered Bridge Festival. Prior to joining the Mental Health Asssociation, Loresch, a native of Chicago, Ill., and a graduate of Rosary College, an all-female school, worked as a special education teacher in the Canon-McMillan School District. She later was employed as a real estate agent and business management consultant.
Jan Taper, administrator of Washington County Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, has known Loresch personally and professionally for more than 30 years.
“She is a strong and tireless advocate for mental health services and she’s played a large role in pushing services and programs forward,” said Taper.
The most difficult time during Loresch’s tenure occurred in 2008, when a van carrying 11 staff members and residents from the Bentleyville group home collided with a tractor-trailer, killing three residents and two staff members and injuring six other residents.
“It was a very difficult time, an extremely trying time. But there was a tremendous outpouring of support from the community, and all of the staff rallied, even those who had moved on,” said Loresch.
Loresch will be succeeded by David Jenco, who began his career at ARC in Westmoreland County and has served with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Area Agency on Aging.
“I’d really like to eventually enhance the Drop-In Center, and there’s still a need for housing in Washington, so we’re hoping to expand that,” said Jenco, a father of two children, ages 9 and 6. “There’s really a need for housing like the enhanced personal care home we have. We’d like to have more of those.”
Loresch plans to remain on the board of Transitional Employment Consultants, which helps people with mental health issues obtain work and assists children who can’t perform in a regular school setting and will continue to work with the Staunton Farm Foundation. Loresch recently was honored by the foundation with the Dr. Albert B. Craig Jr. Award for Innovation in Behavioral Health.
Loresch also is a member of Immaculate Conception Church and its choir, and she plans to volunteer for the Mental Health Association.
The MHA recently received a grant to help launch an anti-stigma campaign, and Loresch will be involved in assisting Jenco with its implementation.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve this community. I’m retiring,” said Loresch, “but I’m not going away.”