Eugene Brudno’s JFSA volunteer career began almost four decades ago while parenting a daughter with mental illness and grand parenting a grandson with disabilities. Because the mental health field had not offered Eugene the necessary support, he realized that he needed to find and connect with other families who were parenting children with mental illness to offer emotional support, as well as to seek out and provide the best quality of programs and services available for their children.
Eugene is the co-founder of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Metro Cleveland (AMI), a local branch of the national organization dedicated to providing referral, educational, support and political advocacy to people and families experiencing mental illness. His desire to reach out to this special population makes him accessible to parents twenty-four hours a day, who struggle with the fears and uncertainties of having a child diagnosed with mental illness. He is a requested speaker at AMI-Metro programs, and in the community. For the past seventeen years at JFSA, Eugene has led a weekly support group for parents of adult children with mental illness. He is also co-founder of LINKS Clubhouse, a consumer drop-in center; the Wieder-Silver Manor, a subsidized apartment building; and PLAN of Northeast Ohio, an organization designed to continue to meet the needs of adult children with mental illness when their parents or caretakers pass away.
Eugene’s passion, vision and commitment to remove the stigma associated with people with mental illness permit him to be outspoken about his quest for helping people with mental illness, overcoming such challenges as connecting with families in the community that had children with mental illness and purchasing a house with his own money where children would have a caretaker to provide for their special needs.
Social policy arising from a lack of parity in mental health benefits led Eugene to network with the state chapter of NAMI in Wisconsin to lobby in Washington, D.C. for better health services and laws for people with mental illness. Through his unceasing efforts, the number of lobbyists grew from the initial twelve to 1,500 individuals that work hard to provide the best care for their children with mental illness. To address the ongoing nature of dealing with relatives who have adult children with mental illness, Eugene is the support group facilitator at JFSA, where he directs his energy towards giving positive reinforcement and confidence, understanding and compassion to everyone. Eugene and his wife, Irene, established a JFSA staff scholarship program for graduate study.
Eugene continues to defy age and health issues as he rises each morning accepting that his life will always revolve around seeking the latest information about mental illness and implementing state-of-the-art programs and services for families experiencing the daily struggles of mental illness. That challenge is what keeps Eugene sharp, focused, outspoken, passionate, respected and loved by all who know him. At eighty-six years young, Eugene truly exemplifies the true spirit of volunteerism in every facet of its definition. Without fail, he offers genuine support and guidance to families who ask him for assistance. Always with humility and with an ever-present humanitarian commitment, Eugene consistently goes way beyond his service description of helping people overcome obstacles, building bridges between people of all backgrounds and mental/physical status, and encouraging community organizations to embrace mental illness with compassion and understanding.