WAYLAND — Some who hurt look for guidance in the form of a compassionate friend.
Compeer was formed 40 years ago by a woman in Rochester to use the power of friendship to help people recover from mental illness. Ellen Stephens, Steuben County Compeer director, brought it to the area about 30 years ago.
“Our job is to recruit volunteers to work with people who have a mental illness,” she said. “Many of these people have burned all of their bridges with family, and need all the support they can get. Many people don’t understand that mental illness is long-term, and they need a friend.”
Stephens added that they do background checks on all of the volunteers before they match them with a client.
“We try to screen people who might not be good for the job,” she said. “We interview them three times to make sure they are a good fit. We want to match them with the right kind of clients. They can go bowling, bingo, ball games, or even Civil War Reenactments together. I even have some who are interested in railroads, and go to all of the railroad museums. If the volunteers have a common interest with the clients it makes an easy match.”
Volunteers can decide how much time to spend, and what their schedule is like with the clients.
“Forty years ago when this started it was because a woman felt healed by having friends show up to support her,” Stephens said. “People can spend a long time in the hospital. This gives them personal growth and satisfaction. A volunteer can really improve someone’s life.”
There is a lot of training done with the volunteers, so that they can understand mental illness. It is important depending on the illness to know about it.
“I see the clients really bloom with the friendships,” Stephens said. “They get to be part of the world, and have a lot of fun at museums, picnics, and events.”
There is a Harvest and Holiday dinner that the clients really look forward to every year. The Compeer Picnic with the Maple City Lions Club in Hornell is a big hit every year. That is June 9 from noon until 3 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Park on Cedar Street in Hornell. This brings basket raffles, auctions, door prizes, food, and lots of fun to their lives.
“I am willing to talk to anyone who is interested,” Stephens said. “You find a lot of people know relatives, friends, or community members who have some form of mental illness. I saw that need for this program in our community. You need to have a mentor in your life to keep you out of trouble. This is for people of all ages with any kind of mental illness. I find it even helps the children, and teaches them to be grateful.”
The program has come a long way over the years.
“The Compeer program helps these people live their lives,” Stephens said. “These people don’t have a voice, and there is no budget to help out. The most needy would be put in a state facility and forgotten about. Most of the people who chose to volunteer are good people. Most of the clients are afraid to be around people, because they don’t want to be judged.”
To learn more about Compeer or to volunteer you can call 607-664-2045 or visit https://www.steubencony.org/pages.asp?PGID=65