Our Health celebrates its 10 years of service

Posted: November 15, 2013

The Winchester Star

Jim Vickers (from left), Marjorie Lewis, Skip Smith and Mark Merrill at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Our Health campus. Vickers is the former chair of the Our Health building and grounds committee; Lewis chaired the Our Health fundraising campaign; Smith's father, Del. Alson H. Smith, was instrumental in securing state and federal support; and Merrill, president and CEO, represented Valley Health. They were recognized for their contributions Thursday night at the George Washington Hotel. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — In 1996, Our Health was a novel idea to meet a great need.

Thursday night, Our Heath celebrated its 10th anniversary as a model program that has grown from six original partner agencies to 59. It served 5,000 people in 2003 when its campus first opened and 77,000 in 2012.

Former Our Health board chairwoman Sue Jones said that a study of the needs in the community, done by Valley Health in 1996, showed five main problems.

A group of residents chose to tackle one.

Local nonprofit agencies, offering a wide variety of services from medical to social to educational, were constantly moving their locations, looking for space they could afford on limited budgets.

The idea was to form an organization that would find permanent, safe, attractive and affordable space for these groups, and provide other services, such as grant writing, marketing and public relations.

“It was a first for the state,” said Jones, who noted that having so many service agencies grouped together helped people in crisis get all the help they needed.

About 134 supporters at the George Washington Hotel heard plans for Our Health’s next decade.

Incoming board chairman Don Butler said the North Cameron Street campus, which has gone from 25,000 to 60,000 square feet, still needs to grow.

Our Health will launch a $2 million “10th Anniversary Campaign” to accomplish four new goals:

The funds will build and operate more nonprofit office space.

The money will also be used to create classroom and laboratory space to house a new Health Sciences Academy for use by local public school students who want careers in health services.

Also planned is a community training center to be used for large conference and training workshops for the partner agencies.

Finally, Butler said, the money will fund the new “Our Health-Our Community-Your Legacy” endowment fund, to “sustain us into the future.”

Our Health used the evening to honor its “champions,” people who were instrumental in creating the organization and making it a success.

They are:

Marjorie Lewis, who has championed a number of causes, including Healthy Families Northern Shenandoah Valley, which she founded. She was instrumental in raising funds for the construction and renovation of the first buildings reclaimed by Our Health.

Jim Stutzman, who also made fundraising the focus of his work on the original Our Health Capital Campaign Committee. He and his wife made a very personal investment by asking guests at their wedding to make a contribution to the project instead of giving them a gift.

Via video, Stutzman said he is always thrilled to see the names of those donors on the wall at Our Health.

The late Alson H. Smith Jr., who served as the local area delegate to the General Assembly for 20 years and backed creation of Our Health. Known as a man who could get things done, board member Wade Byard noted that “When Al was convinced our area needed Our Health, he helped us get it.”

Jim Vickers, who Byard said is responsible for the look of the Our Health campus. “He pulled together the real estate, architectural and engineering expertise it took to transform a vision into a reality. We now honor a man who gave a great idea an even better form.”

Our Health also honored “our greatest champion,” referring to Valley Health President and CEO Mark Merrill accepted the award for the system’s 5,000 employees. “They have supported us every day” since the original study that identified the need, Byard said.

Thanks to an anonymous sponsor, each of the participants at the celebration went home with a copy of “Scars and Stripes,” the book written by Vietnam War veteran Eugene B. “Red” McDaniel — a Navy pilot who spent six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam — about his experience.

Shot down, McDaniel’s parachute caught in a tree and he fell 50 feet to the ground, breaking two vertebrae in his back.

Captured by the enemy, he was tortured for military information “we didn’t have,” he said, and later, tortured again after two prisoners escaped from the camp, only to be recaptured.

McDaniel said the experience helped him to develop character and faith.

He had this advice for his audience:

Storms will come as we go through life. Everyone is either coming out of a crisis or getting ready to go into one.

“Don’t wait for the storm to pass. Learn to dance in the rain.”

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com