Maria Congelosi shared her story of how the Brien Center saved her life.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Maria Congelosi was feeling so low that she tried to kill herself.
Congelosi is a Romanian native who came to the Berkshires because she was adopted. By the age of 9 or 10, she started getting into physical altercations with her adoptive mother. Throughout school she felt self-conscious, had depression and anxiety. She was teased by her peers.
"Growing up wasn't easy. I had image issues. I didn't like myself. I was excluded a lot. I didn't have friends," Congelosi said.
Her mother put her in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and Congelosi grew attached to her Big Sister. But that woman started pushing her responsibilities onto Congelosi.
"She kind of took advantage of me and my kindness," Congelosi said. "I always thought she cared but she never really did. A few years ago she finally broke my trust. I've had a hard time trusting people since then."
Her depression picked up. Her anxiety got worse.
"I got to the point when I wanted to die. I felt so worthless. My mom and dad gave me up for whatever reason. I have no idea why," Congelosi said.
On Thursday, tears started to flow down Congelosi's face when she introduced her mother to hundreds of people at the Brien Center's annual UNICO dinner. Congelosi had gone to the Brien Center, where she was matched with therapists and other mental health professionals who got her medication and treatment to conquer her illnesses.
Now, Congelosi has a strong relationship with her mother and has started to "put her self out there." She went from being afraid to speak to addressing a packed Itam ballroom.
"The Brien Center is a place that saved my life," Congelosi said.
Brien Center CEO Christine Macbeth said her story exemplifies what the organization stands for. The nonprofit organizations is 95 years old and has grown to have 27 locations throughout the county, all of which are focused on mental health and addiction treatment for all ages.
"We are guided by the belief that everybody in Berkshire County benefits when people are emotionally healthy," Macbeth said.
Macbeth says 10,000 residents receive service through the company and 4,000 of them are children.
"Prevention works. Treatment is effective and people can and do recover," Macbeth said.
She said the organization is now joining forces with others which are pushing for the de-stigmatizing of mental illness and diseases.
"We as a community must talk more and work harder to education people about mental illness and addiction and destigmatize both. Talking openly with one another about mental health and addiction is the best way to break down the barriers and misconceptions," Macbeth said.
Thursday's dinner, sponsored by UNICO, honored outgoing state Sen. Benjamin Downing, who was presented the Brien Center Leadership Award for his work in the State House supporting the center. The senator has opted not to run for re-election after a decade of service.
"I'm the only member of the House of the Berkshire Delegation that is still there [from] when I started. State senators have come and gone. But I'm taking this one hard, personally. He's not only a good friend and a good partner but a good mentor to so many people," state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli said.
State Rep. William 'Smitty' Pignatelli gave Sen. Benjamin Downing a legislative citation honoring his decade of service.
Downing was given the award from Macbeth, and Pignatelli had some other gifts. A few years ago Pignatelli, a Lakers fan, and Downing, a Celtics fan, wagered on a series between the two teams. The loser had to wear the opponent's jersey. The Lakers won then and on Thursday, Pignatelli called on Downing to pay up, presenting him with a customized Lakers jersey.
Pignatelli had also framed Downing's state license plate with a photo of his local colleagues, and presented Downing with a citation from the House of Representatives.
After receiving the award and Pignatelli's gifts, Downing credited organizations like the Brien Center as being what makes Berkshire County a "special place."
"This community has given me absolutely every opportunity in life. This community has been there for me and my family when we've gone through tragedy. This community is a special place," Downing said. "We don't give ourselves nearly enough credit for just how special this community is."
In the Berkshires, organizations and individuals find ways to work together and make dollars stretch before asking state or federal officials for help. It is a community with a "unique spirit" filled with people who donate their "time and talent" toward helping others, he said. And he said it is the type of community that is exactly like Pignatelli telling Congelosi when she walked away from the podium to a standing ovation that this is her family.
"Everywhere has challenges but not every has the sense and the spirit of community that this place has. Not everywhere has what Pittsfield has, not everywhere has what the Berkshires has," Downing said.
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