Bethesda man awarded for work with mental health patients -- Gazette.Net


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Benjamin Cramer works behind the scenes to help others find success. Now, he’s in the spotlight, having received one of four national awards for building relationships that assist those in need with improving their lives.

Cramer, who works at St. Luke’s House in Bethesda, a nonprofit organization that serves mentally ill adults, received a Veronica Award from the Baltimore-based Superstar Foundation for helping teenagers with mental health disabilities learn to be successful in the workplace.

“I really like building relationships and watching students take the skills we learned together and using them,” Cramer said.

Veronica Awards are given annually to nonprofit employees who can demonstrate positive outcomes as a result of their work with clients.

For Cramer, that means finding ways to make his job more efficient, he said. It is the combination of those skills — looking at what he does and the tracking the outcomes — that earned him the award.

“That’s what it’s all about, sharing the best practices,” said Steve Butz, founder of the Superstar Foundation and creator of the Veronica Award. “If you can begin to tease out the ones that are better, you can help the whole field.”

Butz developed software to track the success of his efforts as a social worker. The Veronica Award, named for his mother, is his way of giving back. The award comes with a $5,000 grant.

Cramer, 28, who lives in Bethesda, has a Bachelor of Science degree in international studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He’s been with St. Luke’s for four years and works with 15 clients who are between the ages of 18 and 24.

His clients have a range of problems, he said, including severe anxieties, autism, intellectual disabilities, bipolar, schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.

“It’s a balancing act; how can I be organized so the clients are organized,” Cramer said. “One of the reasons I probably got this award is because I document hours of working with clients.”

Jesse Cortez, 19, of Wheaton, is one of Cramer’s clients. They have been working together for 18 months. After three tries, Cramer said he found Cortez a job that seems to be a perfect fit, stocking shelves and working as a cashier in a shopping mall.

Cortez, who did not want to discuss his disabilities, said he heard about St. Luke’s through a counselor when he was at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring.

“He has made a difference in my life,” Cortez said of Cramer. “He is a nice person and he respects me and he helps me with my problems that I have over the years.”

Cramer said his supervisor, Whitney Reigel, nominated him for the award. What makes Cramer special, she said, is the number of young people he works with who graduate from school or go on to post-secondary education and maintain employment.

“I’ve been working with Ben the past three years and know his interest and his passion for the direct service he does. He is really one of our top counselors,” Reigel said. “He really helps to relieve [their anxiety]; he helps them strive for independence.”

Cramer is glad the award will bring recognition to those in need.

“Hopefully, people will look at helping people with mental illness. Having a meaningful job gives them a sense of identity, gives them an income, helps them meet friends, and gives them a place to go,” he said. “People with mental illness want to be like everyone else and they are — they just have different disabilities.”

pmcewan@gazette.net