Medella to host fundraising gala Saturday in McDonough

By Jason A. Smith Times Correspondent

This weekend will mark the first fundraiser designed to help individuals who are living with a genetic form of mental illness, and to educate the public about it.

L. to r.: Sara Brown, co-founder and Toni Peterson, founder of Medella. Special photo

Medella Mental and Behavioral Health, Inc. will host its inaugural “Dining in the Dark” gala Saturday from 7-9 p.m., on the Square in McDonough. Medella is a self-funded, nonprofit organization that advocates for people living with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome, a genetic condition characterized by a missing section of chromosome 22. The condition is also referred to as DiGeorge Syndrome or simply as 22q.

Toni R. Peterson founded the Stockbridge-based Medella Mental and Behavioral Health in October of 2014. Peterson’s son Nicholas, now 17, was diagnosed with 22q two years ago.

Peterson said the goal for the organization is to increase awareness of 22q locally and nationwide, and to act as a resource for individuals with newly-diagnosed cases of the chromosome disorder.

“It’s actually the second most common behind Down Syndrome,” said Peterson regarding 22q. “It does affect one out of every 2,000 to 4,000 births.”

Peterson said the focus of her organization is also reflected in the Latin origin of its name.

“We chose ‘Medella’ because it means cure, it means healing power, it means health and remedial treatment,” she explained.

Symptoms of 22q include heart defects, kidney problems, cleft palate, immune system problems, learning challenges, psychiatric issues and other challenges. Peterson said some of the birth defects associated with 22q may require surgery in addition to medication.

“Individuals with 22q have to see a lot of specialists,” she said.

Medella co-founder Sara Boykins-Brown added that she hopes the fundraiser will help to “break the stigma of mental illness,” and provide support for those who are diagnosed with 22q.

“We really are shooting for early detection at conception,” said Boykins-Brown. “The only way to detect it right now is through bloodwork.”

Reservations for the gala are required at a cost of $30 per person. Donations will also be accepted during the fundraiser.

Medella has established a minimum fundraising goal of $5,000 for the gala, which will feature a silent auction, food, and entertainment by musician Henley Varner. Proceeds from the event will go toward continued research on 22q and mental illness research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychiatry: Penn Behavioral Health, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Additional funds will also be designated for the introduction of Camp H.O.P.E., in 2016, to help support children, adolescents and their families. H.O.P.E. is an acronym for “having only positive expectations.”

For tickets to the event or more information, call Toni R. Peterson or Sara B. Brown at 470-765-6707. Donations can be made online at

Additional information about Medella Mental and Behavioral Health, Inc., is available at in addition to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.