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Oliver: Awards highlight visions of hope

“ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words -- / And never stops – at all – ” – Emily Dickinson

Hope, as the poet writes, can help one’s spirit to take flight, to glide and even to soar.

It is the quality that brings a different perspective to one’s circumstances, rising above the present to see the possibilities of the future.

It also helps one hold on amid the winds of change or the storms of life beyond one’s control.

Hope is essential in recovery from illness, but no more so than when one faces mental health concerns.

But hope often can be hard to come by in the throes of depression or while battling post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia.

That’s why it is so inspiring to see members of the community leading the way to help others see that recovery is not only possible but also expected.

That was the focus of the fifth annual McHenry County Behavioral Health Foundation’s Visions of Hope Awards, which took place Friday night at the Lakeside Legacy Arts Park in the Dole Mansion. The awards were held in conjunction with the Community Partners’ annual art exhibit, which featured the work of area residents who have been served by McHenry County Mental Health Board-affiliated agencies or partnerships.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Visions of Hope Awards, which are given each year to an outstanding volunteer and an individual or organization for outstanding efforts to raise awareness of recovery from mental illness.

This year’s Outstanding Leadership Award went to Dr. Richard Kirchhoff, who is the president of the board for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of McHenry County. He also serves on the national board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and co-chairs the Illinois chapter.

As a former Army aviation officer, he also helps to raise awareness of the challenges faced by returning veterans and their families.

The Outstanding Volunteer Award was given to someone with whom Northwest Herald readers probably are familiar: columnist Dick Peterson.

Peterson, whom I’ve known since I was hired here in 1990, has been living with bipolar disorder, major depression and generalized anxiety disorder for more than a decade.

In the first dark days of his illness, hope was hard to come by. But little by little, and with a lot of support, he has found his way. In addition to writing a weekly column here, he serves as a state-certified recovery support specialist with Pioneer Center for Human Services.

He also leads Wellness Recovery Action Planning classes in the community, where he is able to speak from his own experiences about how he has been able to come this far.

Through it all, Peterson speaks candidly, openly and compassionately about living with mental illness. His life is dedicated to helping others find their way to recovery just as he has done.

He and Kirchhoff offer visions of hope.

I could not be more proud of my dear friend.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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