More about mentoring at-risk kids

October 12, 2011

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.


Sustained one-on-one mentoring changes kids’ lives

October 10, 2011

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.

Help formerly homeless vets and others feel at home in new housing!

August 10, 2011

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).

A priority task for volunteers will be setting up the rooms for incoming tenants. Can you do this during August? And when tenants are settled, could we work on creating, gradually, opportunities for residents to socialize with U District neighbors?
One possibility is individual companionship over weekly coffee. Freestyle Volunteer encourages this kind of companioning while offering some guidelines. My ideal for University Apts tenants would be for each one who wishes to have a “coffee companion” to be connected with a congenial person.
En route to this goal, the volunteer group could arrange some informal social occasions at University Apartments, such as a barbecue or movie night. Some tenants might eventually gravitate toward group activities such a walking group, book club, music group, writing group, or cooking club, and prefer one of these to an individual coffee companionship. With the help of volunteers, tenants could dig and plant a garden – or not!
This would be a long-term, gradual, low-key, non-invasive, unforced process with highest priority on avoiding making any tenant uncomfortable.
As is well known, the threat and the reality of isolation – of losing a community and companionship when moving away from familiar faces in homeless camps and squats – have in the past pulled some people right out of housing and back on the streets again. Making casual neighborhood companionship available can help lonely tenants stay in their new home

Volunteer as a Community Companion!

March 24, 2011

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

Hopeful signs – ending stigma around mental illness

June 18, 2010

Glenn Close and sister Jessie

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.

Creativity “Mimics Schizophrenia”

May 29, 2010

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.

Struggles of a mentally ill son

April 28, 2010

A mother wrote me about her son, who has schizophrenia:

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.