Saturday, March 30, 2002

Hometown Hero: Advocate for mentally ill

Haffner survived tragedy

By Tish Williams
Enquirer Contributor

        LEBANON — After suffering tragedy, making positive differences in other people's lives has changed Gini Haffner's world.

        The Lebanon woman has given thousands of hours to improving daily existences of mentally ill people and their families. But it wasn't always that way.

        After her son Brian was born in 1969, life seemed perfect. “He was a beautiful child and friends and neighbors would marvel at his abilities at a very young age,” she recalled.

        Brian grew up and worked in a family business, then joined the Navy at the beginning of the Gulf War and served on a destroyer.

        “Brian came home unscathed physically but with lots of emotional problems,” his mother said. “He went back to work and was doing well, but after a difficult romantic relationship, he suffered from severe mood swings which he couldn't seem to shake.”

        Brian was diagnosed as bipolar, the condition formerly called manic-depressive. During treatment and without warning, he took his own life.

        While she was grief-stricken and devastated, Mrs. Haffner soon realized that she could let it destroy her or, “I could work to help others. I knew I must let the healing begin.

        “I created a purpose — not only for myself but for others who need help in making life choices.”

        Seven years ago she moved to Lebanon from Miami County. Now divorced, she educated herself about mental illness and the possibilities of helping others.

        Mostly as a volunteer, she has trained hundreds of individuals and families, all struggling to cope with mental illness.

        She is a representative at many public meetings for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill; (NAMI); she writes a newsletter for the Warren and Clinton counties chapter, serves as a fund raiser, and conducts workshops as a master trainer and support facilitator.

        She is active with Compeer, a local agency that matches individuals with mental illness with volunteers. Mrs. Haffner volunteers on boards of three other agencies which serve the mentally ill. She is NAMI of Ohio associate director of programs and affiliate support.

        Marion Fitch, board chairman of Mental Illness Recovery Services of Warren and Clinton counties, said, “Gini Haffner serves anyone in need. The good work she does is beyond description.”

        “I love all the jobs and every hour I spend with these folks, young and old,” she said. “It does no good to feel sorry for yourself no matter what fate hands you. For each of us, there is a purpose, and sometimes we must look to find it.”

        Do you know a Hometown Hero — someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live? E-mail Janet Wetzel at or fax to 755-4150.

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