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Purple and Gold Bus Tour connects researchers, agencies

Monday morning, commuters may have noticed a large purple and gold bus amidst the traffic heading into Washington on U.S. Highway 264. On board was an assortment of East Carolina University faculty and students on the first leg of the annual Purple and Gold Bus Tour, a 13-county tour of northeastern North Carolina, meant to expose participants to the rural communities the university serves and the unique challenges the region faces.

“This is the third year we’ve done the tour, and it’s really to give our faculty, students and staff a chance to see eastern North Carolina,” said ECU Communications Specialist Matt Smith. “A lot of them aren’t from here or haven’t had an opportunity to get out of Greenville and really see eastern North Carolina for what it is.”

The bus’ first stop, in Washington, was LifeQuest, Inc., Washington’s psychosocial rehabilitation program for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. The goal there was to learn about some of the disparities in mental health care in rural North Carolina.

Located in the old Washington High School, LifeQuest provides an array of services designed to build independence for its members, teaching everything from social skills and money management to independent living and pre-vocational skills. The program serves about 55 people from Beaufort, Pitt and Martin counties.

TRUE STORY: A LifeQuest member shares his story with guests from East Carolina University during the group’s visit to Washington on Monday. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

“Our goal is to help them be successful in the environment of their choice with the least amount of professional intervention, so keeping people out of prison or hospitals and then helping them regain a lot of the abilities they’ve lost because of their disease,” said LifeQuest Program Director Adam Congleton.

For the members at LifeQuest, everything is based on a personalized plan to help them meet their goals. From teaching them the skills they need to keep a job to putting on performances in the old WHS auditorium and volunteering in the community, LifeQuest offers a variety of opportunities.

With Monday’s tour of the facility, there comes the possibility of new partnerships and collaborative projects with ECU to make those offerings even more robust.

“This is something we can do to erase the stigma and see the skills and value our members have still, as people who are suffering from mental health issues,” Congleton said. “We also love partnerships. We currently have three interns, two through ECU and one through Liberty University. Any kind of partnership we can do academically to bring people in to get experience and yet they bring things to the table for our members to do. It’s a win-win situation.”

“The whole thinking (behind the tour) is to connect these researchers with these community members,” Smith added. “We want to work with them hand in hand. This kind of helps us figure out what they need so we can tailor our research projects to fit their needs.”

For more information on LifeQuest, visit www.lifequestinc.net. To learn more about the bus tour and its destinations, visit rede.ecu.edu/bustour.