Sunshine and a gentle summer breeze are the order of a glorious August Saturday afternoon at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center’s Casa Verde, located at the Ward’s Island complex in New York City. Chirping birds fly leisurely from tree to tree as squirrels scamper across the green lawn of the appropriately named Casa Verde (Green House). Male and female patients are seated on wooden or aluminum benches playing bingo as Gary Kirkland, rehab assistant two, directs the fun for this weekend’s take on an old-fashioned block party.
The bingo game runs its course and winners are awarded prizes by Kirkland and some of the patients who are assisting him. Some of those helping Kirkland are standing; others are seated under a galvanized tent-shaped canopy. Overhead, glittering red, blue and silver miniature flags (left over from July 4) flap playfully in the wind.
Kirkland and his associates keep the fun afternoon moving with assorted games, dancing, snacks and music. Several patients assist Kirkland with the music, playing favorite oldies such as “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the more current Alicia Keys favorite, “Girl On Fire.” Off to one side of the paved cement area, some young men are playing basketball. Everyone is having an amazing time.
“I like to see people happy,” Kirkland says, extending an invitation for me to attend the next day’s bingo game.
Sunday rolls around and the entertainment continues with a bingo game on the first floor of the MPC’s Meyer Building. “I like to see people recover and move on to a better place,” says Kirkland, who has been in his position for nine years.
Kirkland raves about the feedback he has received from patients. “Everybody who comes to the Center says, ‘We enjoy what we do in the yard and the Mayer Building,’” he states. “Some people who didn’t come out at first come out now. That’s the part I really like.” He facilitates the programs Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Pausing momentarily to give directions to a patient who is assisting in replacing some of the equipment used for the afternoon’s bingo game, Kirkland reflects on what he likes most about his job. “I like to see people happy,” he repeats, “to see people that don’t normally socialize and engage with each other do so.”
In addition to the diversified programs at Casa Verde and bingo at the Mayer Building, Kirkland also oversees other programs. “These include seasonal activities, which are offered throughout the year,” he explains.
In summing up what he brings to the table in his position at MPC, Kirkland says, “I bring life’s experience, creativity, enthusiasm and enjoyment to my job.” And the patients at MPC love it, as they learn the skills to move on to a healthier lifestyle.