April 20, 2019

Upbeat `Mom’ keeps place together> Social club is largest in Maine for the disabled

“I love this place!” proclaims a paper sign Jan Hinkley designed for her office at Together Place, Bangor’s social club for mentally and physically disabled people.

The homemade sign sums up her attitude toward the Second Street club and its many members, according to Hinkley, 52, of Bangor. She was appointed manager of the facility last spring.

Known as “Mom” to most of the regulars, Hinkley attributes her job satisfaction to the fact she can identify with the 800 members of Together Place.

“I love them. I know where they’re coming from, that’s why I feel so comfortable here,” she said.

Rising above a string of family tragedies and a 35-year battle with depression, Hinkley now manages the largest social club in the state for disabled people.

Hinkley describes herself as a mental health consumer, a fact that puts her at ease, she said, among the members of Together Place.

Despite her busy job, Hinkley always finds time to listen to the problems of members who ask her for advice, and often assistance, in coping with stressful situations.

“I’m a sounding board for most of these people. They tell me things they won’t tell anyone else,” Hinkley said.

Together Place members like her warm, friendly style, a few of them said during an interview. Some of them dropped by to give her a smile or a hug.

A wife and mother of three grown children, Hinkley knows how to appreciate good times because she didn’t have many of them in her earlier years, she said.

“I’ve seen my dark days,” said Hinkley, who suffered a nervous breakdown at 17, following the death of her mother.

Since that time, Hinkley, one of 13 children, has fought with bouts of depression.

One of her children died at 6 months of age and one of her brothers was killed in a hit-and-run driving accident. In 1978, she coped with the murders of a sister, brother-in-law and nephew in a Holden shootout that grew out of a family custody dispute.

Despite family problems, Hinkley prefers to keep a bright outlook on life. “Sure I’ve got my down days but who wants to hear about that?” she said. Her upbeat attitude has gained her respect among her colleagues who run various Together Place agencies.

“She worked her way up to the job. She’s made the position her own,” said her boss, Roger Griffith, executive director of Together Place. Griffith praised Hinkley’s ability to work independently.

“She doesn’t get a whole lot of supervision,” said Griffith. Hinkley also has most of the responsibility for managing the club’s budget, most of which comes from the Division of Mental Health in Augusta.

Hinkley walked into Together Place in 1988 as a member and quickly took on extra chores. She volunteered in the kitchen, then took over as the snack bar manager in 1989.

Hinkley often sings in the “Just Friends Combo,” a band composed of Together Place friends and relatives including her twin sister, Jeannette Fletcher, her nephew, George Harnish, Mickey Mallory, club activities coordinator and, at times, her husband, Edward Hinkely. The band once played to a national audience during a convention of disabled people held in Kennebunkport.

The club’s members requested Hinkley as manager following the resignation of Jeff Hamm last spring.

Today Hinkley still cooks meals two days a week for the 50 to 55 regulars who spend part or all of their days at the club.

Hinkley also orders supplies, organizes special celebrations and completes paperwork for the facility. Two months ago, she organized a fall festival and banquet for 150 club members around the state. She planned Halloween and Thanksgiving parties and will organize a Christmas party for club members in mid-December.

The facility features dances and sponsors a soup kitchen three days a week.

“She’s a little bit unique. She does non-stop counseling all day long. She knows how to make people feel comfortable,” said Mary Lawrence, coordinator for Community Connections, a recreational linkage program which has its headquarters in the Together Place building.

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