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White House Christmas Tree Ornament Honors HHC Leader and Recovery Crusader Karen Kangas

December 14, 2017

Karen Kangas is proud to be a pioneer in the field of mental health, well known in the profession for her work promoting the rights and skills of those in recovery by sharing her own story of success following treatment for bi-polar disorder and alcohol addiction.

But she never expected to be recognized alongside of civil rights icons such as abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Yet there she is, or at least there is her likeness, displayed on a handcrafted ornament now on display on the White House lawn as part of the Pathway of Peace surrounding the national Christmas tree. The walkway surrounding the national tree features 56 state and territory trees decorated with handmade ornaments unique to each locale.

The Karen Kangas ornament created by artist Adam Chambers for the Pathway of Peace Christmas tree displayed on the White House Lawn.

The ornaments on Connecticut’s tree were created by Hamden artist Adam Chambers.  With diversity as his chosen theme, Chambers created small portraits in oil of Connecticut luminaries representing men and women, young and old, from as many races and backgrounds as possible. The paintings are encased in clear plastic bulbs, each emblazoned a letter to spell DIVERSE-CT!

Among 11 Connecticut representatives featured in the ornament collection are Emma Fielding Baker, a Mohegan medicine woman and Native American historian who lived from 1828 to 1916; Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author and abolitionist; Marian Anderson, the African-American opera singer who died at the end of the 20th century; Yung Wing, an education advocate and the first Chinese-American college graduate in the U.S., who lived from 1828 to 1912; Maria Colon Sanchez, a community activist and bilingual education advocate in Hartford during the 1970s and 1980s; Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in the U.S.; Caitlin Cahow, an ice hockey player and Olympic athlete, along with being a LGBTQ activist; and Kangas,  a professor and mental health and disability advocate, who is now Director of Recovery and Family Affairs for the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network.

Like other civil rights crusaders, people with mental illness have had to fight for their rights, she said. And finally, people in recovery are being hired to bring their unique perspective into the field of mental health treatment.

“We had to fight really hard,’’ said Kangas, who defied a doctor’s admonition that she would never work again.

The ornament will be on display outside the White House through Jan. 1 and Kangas said she is considering taking the train to Washington with her daughter and three grandchildren to see it.

“It’s just such as neat thing that mental health would be included,’’ said Kangas. “And then when I heard that Harriet Beecher Stowe [was among the honorees] I thought, ‘oh my gosh, that’s a thing.’ ”