It is not the biggest festival in the world, but it offers hope.

Joy Black, with Joy’s Place, addressed Geauga County Commissioners Tuesday to speak about the Zucchini Festival planned for July 20 on Chardon Square that benefits Emerald Woods, a healing community, which celebrated its opening in January in Chester Township.

Ms. Black told commissioners that one in 14 Americans suffer from mental illness, although the shame and stigma attached to it often prevents people from seeking the help they need. Too often, she said, people worry how they will be perceived by friends, family and co-workers and choose to live with the illness rather than seek help.

While mental health ranks second only to cardiovascular disease in years of life lost due to death or disability, 40 percent go untreated.

The annual event, now in its eighth year, serves to erase the stigma of mental health, she told commissioners.

Featuring the versatile and nutritious zucchini was the result of brainstorming between mental health professionals, including James Adams, executive director of Geauga County’s Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services. She said after listing festivals for strawberries, potatoes and other produce, the group settled on zucchinis as no other festivals pay tribute to it and it remains the only Ohio festival for zucchini.

The event opens at 9 a.m. with a Run or Walk to Erase the Stigma. It is provided at no cost to the participants, but donations are encouraged to Emerald Rose. Runners and walkers can choose between a 5K or one-mile race. The festival officially opens at 10 a.m. and runs to 5 p.m.

Commissioner Timothy Lennon asked whether the star attraction, the zucchini, will be in short supply given the problems farmers have had in this excessively wet year.

Ms. Black said she, personally, was unable to get her garden in Chardon planted this year because of the soggy conditions, but that a Middlefield farmer was able to get his crop in and zucchini will be plentiful.

Emerald Rose Corporation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization committed to advocating, educating and removing the stigma associated with mental illness and expanding wellness service options for the seriously mentally ill.

Ms. Black said mental illness affects virtually every aspect of life from the promise of youth, to the productivity of the workforce, the well-being of elders, justice in the courts to the fabric of our families.

“For those who are capable and strive to achieve a desired level of normalcy in their life, there is hope,” the organization states.

Joseph Koziol Jr. started his career in journalism in 1981. He joined the Solon Times in 1992 and covered the city of Solon for 10 years. An award winning reporter, Mr. Koziol has been covering Geauga County since 2012.

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