Gov. Codey joined the event which also honored Father John Doherty, Joann Tassone-Dost, and Michael Lynch. While Codey attended the event, his wife could not.
Codey and his wife were named honorary chairs for the event because of their strong advocacy for mental health in New Jersey.
"Mrs. Codey has been more than a staunch supporter," said Agnes Mangelli, chairperson for the BCMHC's Board of Trustees in her greeting to the standing room crowd at the Chandelier Restaurant. "Her personal efforts to make people aware that there is no shame in mental illness, and that anyone suffering should seek help, have made her a hero in the eyes of the staff and the trustees of the BCMHC."
Codey and his wife were honored for their "courage in sharing their own struggle with mental illness," and by doing so, "helped reduce the stigma attached to metal illness," as well as helping focus attention on the critical need for affordable and accessible treatment.
"I think we all agree for too long people have swept the problems of the mentally ill under the carpet," Codey said, during his appearance at the Chandelier Restaurant. "A lot of people think that I'm involved in mental illness because of my wife."
But he said he had an experience years earlier when he worked for his father's funeral home and was sent to Graystone Park State Mental Hospital in Morris Plains to pick up a dead body.
Seeing the people living there inspired him to go under cover later as a legislator. He visited Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital, where he discovered conditions that led to the firing of the director and 35 staff members.
"You can just imagine as a husband and a father when my wife was pregnant with our second son - who is now 16 - she had 10 electroshock therapy treatments," he said. "I stayed in the room with her. So you can imagine the emotion seeing your wife being jolted. I'm not knocking electro-shock treatments. For a lot of people that's what they need and what they should have. Yet at the same time when she is pregnant with your child, it's not an easy experience."
Sixteen years ago...
But he said 16 years ago, she could not have easily talked openly about her affliction.
"So when I became governor, I decided to make mental health a priority in my administration," he said. "And together with people like yourselves, we are fighting the good fight, trying to challenge the stereotypes of mental illness. We together speak up for those people who have no voice, by demanding we do better for them. I didn't want to have just another task force that files a report that goes on a shelf in the governor's office. But I wanted one that would challenge the status quo. That's what I said to the task force: 'Think outside the box.' I think we have accomplished that."
Codey said his administration has implemented many of the recommendations of the task force and is currently working on many more.
Recently, Codey signed legislation that created a $200 million housing trust fund for the mentally ill.
"That means over the next 10 years in New Jersey, we will fund and build 1,000 housing units per year for the mentally ill," Codey said.
Also, Codey recently signed legislation that wipes out the penalties for people who could not afford their stay in state psychiatric facilities.
"I couldn't believe it years ago that when you were released you were given a bill," Codey said. "You didn't have any health insurance. You didn't have any money. You were lucky you had a home to go to. It was unbelievable. That doesn't exist any more."
Student loans for social service work To encourage young people to go into social services, the state has implemented a student loan forgiveness program, Codey said.
"We also expanded the state's mental health hotline so that it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Codey said. "We also cracked down on the inspection of the state's mental health facilities. We are now demolishing Graystone Park Psychiatric Hospital to make way for a smaller facility."
The state has also launched a statewide public information campaign on postpartum depression and recently created the Governor's Council to combat the negative stigma associated with mental illness.
"And in a very tough budget year we appropriated an additional $40 million for mental health in the state of New Jersey," he said, "funding that will help expand programs and services through the state for people like you. Your center is a great example of government partnership committed to community based care. We can never lose sight of the fact that people in our communities with mental illness are our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, our fathers, our husbands and yes, in my case, our wives. For too long mental illness has been ignored. But I think today, we're changing all of that."
Several months ago, Gov. Codey visited Bayonne and pledged $100,000 in state funds for the BCMHC capital improvement fund. At the Chandelier, he renewed this pledge.
Local heroes also honored
Local heroes honored included Father John Doherty of St. Andrew's Church, who was deeply involved in community including roles with various fire and police departments, and DARE (a drug education program) for which he was named the Bayonne's DARE Man of the Year in 1995.
Father Doherty been honored by many civic organizations over the years including the Jay Cees of New Jersey, the Distributive Education Club of America, and the United States Marine Corps.
In 1997, he was honored by a local organization called Ireland 32 for his commitment to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Bayonne, and in 2001 was named Irishman of the Year by the Bayonne Police Emerald Society.
Another honoree was Joann Tassone-Dost.
While still in college and working at Christ Hospital, Tassone-Dost became interested in social work and community outreach. Tassone-Dost worked at the Bayonne Mental Health Clinic after college, and then went onto the Windmill Alliance.
She is an active member in the Bayonne Coalition of Food Pantries, and operates a food pantry at Highways and is a member of Advocates for Bayonne Children. She currently serves on the executive board of the Bayonne Faith Based Center and the planning committed charged with forming the Hudson County Child Welfare Planning Council.
Before moving into the guidance department in 1999, honoree Michael Lynch taught mathematics at Mary J. Donohoe School for 29 years, where he was named Teacher of the Year for the 1984-85 school year. Over the years, he has served on a variety of school committees and served as a coach for numerous sports team, and is seen as a moving force in restarting the Elementary Grade 8 Coed Volleyball team - although he was also instrumental in the Elementary Chess program, Elementary Public Speaking Program and Elementary Academic Challenge Competition serving as coordinator.
He is also involved in various other state and national sports associations, and writes two columns for the Bayonne Community News.