Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rick and Jo Pelishek - Advocates of the Month January 2007

CAICA is honored to recognize Rick and Jo Pelishek as Advocates of the Month.

Before moving to Wisconsin both Rick and Jo did advocacy work in Bismarck, North Dakota. Rick was the state director for North Dakota Disability Advocacy Consortium and Jo was the Program Director for the Arc of Bismarck.

Currently Rick is the Director of the NW Wisconsin office of Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW), the states protection and advocacy for people with disabilities.

The death at Rice Lake Day Treatment of Angie Arndt brought to the forefront the issue of seclusion and restraint which is a DRW priority. Rick is dedicated to seeing this never happens again in Wisconsin ... or anywhere.

Rick and Jo have three teenagers at home so Jo's half-time position as a Family Advocate with Wisconsin Family Ties is a great fit. Wisconsin Family Ties is an organization that works to create greater understanding, respectful acceptance, and support in the community for families that include children and adolescents with emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. What Jo loves most is being able support other families who are experiencing similar things she and Rick have experienced with their own special needs children. Her background in journalism and communications is a great help in her efforts to promote community awareness and education of children's mental health issues, which is one of her priorities. She brings hope to families who many otherwise have no hope.

The death of 7-year old Angellika "Angie" Arndt hit close to home for the Pelisheks. Though they did not know Angie, their entire family was sickened by the news. They have tried to keep Angie's story alive. Their family created a sign to honor Angie, and together they shared astonishment and frustration that there was no public response to Angie’s death.

Rick and Jo, with support of their agencies, have worked together to draw attention to this case. They co-sponsored a workshop last October with speakers who explained the differences between behavior modification and therapeutic programs, and talked about “Behavior as Communication.” They are planning another conference in May (Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month & the year anniversary of Angie’s death) that will address some of the issues involved. They plan to dedicate a memorial to Angie (most likely a tree in the park) at this time, promoting it as a community event – trying, once again, to elicit some community involvement.

Jo created “Angie’s Fund,” to honor Angie, promote awareness and understanding of children’s mental health, and to provide a way in which people can respond to this tragedy. Funds will be used to directly enhance the lives of families they serve. They would like to see “Angie’s Law” passed in Wisconsin, potentially banning prone restraint and requiring effective systems of monitoring treatment of children. Jo's biggest dream, should funds be made available, would be to establish “Angie’s House” in Rice Lake. This could be a model center of treatment and support for families.

I have had the pleasure of working with this couple and I commend Rick and Jo for all of their hard work. It is our quest to keep Angie's story alive and to bring about change so that no other child has to suffer the way Angie suffered.