For children who live in chaos or neglect, mentoring really does help them build better lives. Like all relationships mentoring takes time and patience, but the rewards are extraordinary for both the mentor and the child. Read David Bornstein’s followup in the New York Times to the article published earlier – linked to my previous post, below.
Youngsters who grow up in poverty or in dysfunctional families badly need stable adults in their world. David Bornstein reports in the New York Times on a mentoring program called Friends of the Children, founded by Duncan Campbell of Portland, Oregon. The program pairs paid volunteers with kids who need stable companionship. Over time, solid and trustful personal relationships help these children do better in school and eventually build productive lives.
We are social beings, after all – which means that we don’t just “have” relationships. In a very real sense, we “are” our relationships. If our only relationships are with individuals perpetually on the edge, it’s hard for us to find our own balance.
This fall the University Apartments, new permanent housing for homeless veterans and other homeless individuals, will open in the U District on 12th NE between NE 50th and 47th. I’m hoping to launch a volunteer project that will help weave the new residents into “the fabric of this community” (as Bill Block of the Committee to End Homelessness put it, in the video attached to the article about the University Apts groundbreaking, linked above).
Are you looking to connect to your community? Do you have a desire to learn about the impact of homelessness and mental illness on the life around you? Want to learn about what you can do to help? Consider training to be a Community Companion Volunteer with Plymouth Healing Communities!
PHC is a small nonprofit that supports adults who have experienced homelessness and are living with mental illness. We operate with the understanding that the cycle of hospitalization and homelessness, characteristic in the lives of many of adults living on the streets, can be broken.
Isolation has proven to be a key factor in perpetuating homelessness and deteriorating mental health. In recognizing this, PHC works to address the debilitating impact of isolation by offering regular companionship, conversation, and community connection to adults in our program.
You can volunteer as Community Companion and play a vital role in working to open up our community to welcome all of its valuable members.
Community Companion Volunteers are a part of a team of volunteers offering companionship and community support to our Program Participants. Volunteers highlight the healing strength of companionship by forging influential relationships through supportive, genuine conversation and engaged listening. As a volunteer you will walk alongside, encourage, and empower others as they reconnect to their community.
Volunteers meet with Program Participants weekly in the community for conversation over coffee or tea. This brief time, dedicated to engaging Participants in one-to-one conversation, has proven to be immeasurably healing. The simple power of conversation and human connection in promoting health and well-being will astound you.
Click here for more details about the trainings, or contact
Anne Mathieson, PHC Community Companion
annem [at] plyhc [dot] org
There’s a wonderful, hopeful story in the online Seattle P-I today about BringChange2Mind, a nonprofit founded by actress Glenn Close, whose sister and nephew have mental illnesses. That sister and nephew, Jessie Close and her son Calen Pick, will be the keynote speakers tonight, June 18, at the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Seattle University’s College of Education. The goal of BringChange2Mind is to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
This campaign is urgently necessary. I just received an email from a young man who thinks he may have a mental illness and wants to consult a psychiatrist. But his parents refuse to consider the possibility that their son may be ill in this way!
May the day soon arrive when brain disorders are treated with the same kind of consideration and respect as are diseases like cancer and diabetes. The online videos at BringChange2Mind are effective tools for hastening this change.
So is becoming a freestyle volunteer, and choosing one person who shares our public spaces but is socially isolated by mental illness, to meet at a cafe for coffee and conversation once a week. Tips are here and tabbed above.
Researchers who say that creativity mimics schizophrenia are not saying that schizophrenia makes people creative, or that this mental illness targets especially creative people. Nor is the comparison meant to suggest that a creative individual suffers as miserably as people with schizophrenia do, from frightening delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. Still, the parallels turned up in recent scientific studies are intriguing.
One way that people without schizophrenia can be extremely creative is to freestyle volunteer! Find out how by clicking here, or on the tab above.
When my son’s anti-psychotic medication caused diabetes, he was put on a new med. Before it took effect he started self-medicating with crack cocaine and alcohol and lost his job and housing. In helpless frustration and despair, he burned his arms deeply with a cigarette lighter
Now he seems to have frightened himself back into sobriety. He told me he realized that he would have some horrible scars from burning himself. After a day of waging that familiar internal war among my feelings of anger, despair and unconditional love, I returned to the fact that my emotions – once again! – needed to be put away while I worked to bring every service and support to bear on his crisis.
I got him back into his dual diagnosis psychiatric/addiction-treatment program at Center for Human Services, updated his psychiatrist before their appointment, and told him he needs to go to AA every day. This week, his counselor saw him individually on two days, and in group session another day, so I am very thankful for some relief there. He also called Community Psychiatric Clinic for help with finding housing. This whole episode started when his meds were changed through no fault of his, and I still don’t feel sure that the new medication is right for him.
We had a big, semi-rational talk that he initiated the other night. He told me that he hates it when I interrupt him. I apologized … and then did it again about two minutes later. He raised his eyebrows with such an accurate understanding of my habitual shortcomings: “Do you see what I mean about your constant interruption, Mother?” his eyebrows said. So I apologized again.
And I thought, “What an astute man he would have been, had he not had to deal with schizophrenia.” It was a touching conversation. Slow thinkers have always been hard for me, but this is very important to him, so I will redouble my efforts to pay attention and not let my anxiety get the best of me. It is so important to be respectful.
Companionship for someone isolated by mental illness contributes to their stability and feelings of self-worth. Ideas about how to get started are tabbed above.
“Warning: These videos will mess you up!” This caveat is on the front page of a website called Invisible People:
On the street I saw a small girl cold and shivering in a thin dress, with little hope of a decent meal. I became angry and said to God; “Why did you permit this? Why don’t you do something about it?” For a while God said nothing. That night he replied, quite suddenly, “I did something about it. I made you.”
I also heard a story about a homeless man on Hollywood Blvd who really thought he was invisible. But one day a kid handed the man a Christian pamphlet. The homeless guy was shocked and amazed, “what! You can see me? How can you see me? I’m invisible!”
It isn’t hard to comprehend this man’s slow spiral into invisibility. Once on the street, people started to walk past him, ignoring him as if he didn’t exist…. It’s not that people are bad, but if we make eye contact, or engage in conversation, then we have to admit they exist and that we might have a basic human need to care. But it’s so much easier to simply close our eyes and shield our hearts to their existence.
This filmmaker has posted a number of videos on his website, Invisible TV. The videos may not “mess you up,” but they’ll move you.
Steve Lopez, L.A. Times columnist and author of The Soloist, describes the making of a CD by a formerly homeless classical musician who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. What a wonderful outcome of an unlikely friendship between two extraordinary men.
Please consider choosing just one person sharing our public spaces who is socially isolated by mental illness or homelessness, and meet for coffee and conversation at a cafe once a week. Ideas about how to get started, as well as some Freestyle Volunteer stories, are tabbed above.
(At Crosscut.com you can find my review of The Soloist – book and film.)
At the 2010 Guiding Lights Weekend January 29-30, my group role-played engaging with someone who seems or is homeless. Cultivating a safe yet open mindset seemed especially useful for “coming alongside.” Suggestions:
- Sense and enjoy the life going on all around, and cultivate thankfulness for it. Doing this puts me in a mood of happily “saying yes” to the encounter.
- Remember personal boundaries and limits. I don’t give strangers cash, but I do offer to buy food. And I always stay in a public space. “How about I get us some coffee at that cafe’ over there?”
- Detach from outcomes. I let go of any preconceptions of what will happen or should happen in the encounter. Beyond being with the other person in the moment, there’s no such thing as “success.”
- Imagine a safe, welcoming space to contain two people: I’ve already drawn a safe boundary circle around myself (see #2). Now I imagine drawing a loose, welcoming circle around me and the other person. Within it we can stand restfully, sit down on a nearby bench, go to a café, or walk along side by side. (Of course, the other guy may not want to engage, in which case I simply say goodbye.)
- Remember that one is a guest in the other person’s world. Accordingly, I treat the other with dignity and respect. I have no need or desire to change him or her; I want just to experience the moment together. Maybe only I will change.
- Stand “side by side” with the other person. Face-to-face companionship may feel uncomfortable to the other, slightly threatening, or too much like what police and bureaucrats do. Harborview Medical Center Mental Health Chaplain Craig Rennebohm teaches the importance of being “side by side.” Gentle eye contact is also important.
- Notice the life going on all around, and share observations as it feels natural to do so. Silence is golden, too.
- Cultivate a sense of wonder about the other person. Psychiatrist Alfred Margulies says, “A sense of wonder keeps us from behaving as if we have other people figured out.” It also keeps me from falling into pity, which will separate me from the other person. A sense of wonder doesn’t mean asking lots of questions. I accept what the other person has to offer, even if it’s silence.
- Listen and hear. My companion should feel that I value the words that are spoken as well as the speaker. Bill Block, Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, helped me realize that I don’t have to agree (or necessarily even to believe) in order to hear. When I say “I hear you” even to things that are troubling or that call for action, this openness to the other does not commit me to act in any particular way.
- Cultivate a sense of mutuality. I help my companion feel that contact is important to me personally by inviting a later connection and offering a choice. “How about I buy us a cup of coffee next week? When and where would you like to meet?”