FISH counselor can also light up the stage

Pat Hardy has a simple philosophy about dealing with people who are down and out.

"Do not fall into the trap of thinking you know all the answers," Hardy said.

"I don't see the same type of person every day. Each person is unique. A lot of people I see say, 'You must have heard this a thousand times.' I answer, 'No, I just met you.'

"What clinicians have to do is assume naivete. When you meet a client, you have to express to them optimism and hope. If nothing else, we are peddlers of hope."

Hardy on July 10 became the family services specialist at Friends in Service Helping. He makes sure families living in the low-income housing that FISH has at the former Stewart Indian School are on the right track to self-sufficiency.

Guiding people to a brighter future is nothing new for Hardy.

He did 30 years of community-based mental health work before "retiring" in early 1999. From 1979 to 1992, Hardy was director of the state rural clinics and mental health centers.

Budget cuts forced him down the ladder to become director of the Carson Mental Health Center, one of the 17 rural centers he had previously overseen as state director. Recent years saw him as director of evaluation and quality assurance at the state Division of Mental Health.

"This is what I do," Hardy said. "I've always liked to help people."

Growing up in Camden, N.J., Hardy focused on three goals: being a teacher, a minister and a health-care professional. "I thought in terms of psychology first."

Instead, he got into mental health, first in North Carolina before coming to Carson City in 1979. Hardy retired from the state a year ago to devote more time to his private practice, the New Hope Counseling Center at the First Presbyterian Church in Carson City.

Hardy doesn't limit his mental health work to clinics. He also offers therapy in the form of live theater.

If Hardy, 59, looks a bit like he could be Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," that indeed was Hardy playing the lead role in that musical in the Western Nevada Musical Theater Company's 1997 production in Carson City.

He appeared in "The Fantasticks" at the Brewery Arts Center two weeks ago and in spring he played the defense attorney in "Inherit the Wind," a Western Nevada Community College theater production staged in Minden.

"I'm the old actor coming out of the trunk (in "The Fantasticks)," Hardy said. "I think I've done that role eight times. As the years go by, it's more and more typecasting."

Hardy's primary responsibility is filling FISH's four duplex apartments and four houses at Stewart with low-income working families. Then he sets up and implements plans with the families so they can succeed on their own.

Hardy's initial counseling session follows along these lines:

"You're going to move from here to self-sufficiency in two years," Hardy said. "What do you need? You've got nothing right now. We're going to turn that around. You have a contract with me that you're going to put a certain amount in a savings account. You're going to go to the FISH thrift store and identify the pots and pans you need. We have all the food you need. I'll help you with that. I can get you child care so your wife can work and add to your savings."

His weekly or biweekly sessions with those families will touch on how to save money, job skills, budgeting skills, perhaps even parenting and house maintenance skills.

"All those things you and I assume everybody knows," Hardy said. "Not true."

FISH has not had a family services specialist for about a year-and-a-half. Executive Director Monte Fast said he was a bit surprised to get a $33,000 grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department for interim housing programs, including Hardy's salary.

Fast has known Hardy longer than the 12 years he has headed up FISH. With Hardy more or less retired, Fast extended an offer - " I twisted Pat's arm."

"He's the best and semi-retired. This was an ideal marriage," Fast said. "Pat is the person to see to it that the dollars are expended so that people can move forward and get on track."

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