By Geoff Brown, Pharm.D
Those suffering from mental illness all too often experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. These feelings can be made worse by symptoms of mental illness that make it difficult to create and maintain meaningful connections or relationships with others.
Socialization and friendship are crucial aspects of mental wellbeing, and are essential for successful integration into the community. Individuals who can successfully socialize and develop friendships with others have increased self-confidence, optimism, a better outlook on life, and are more adherent to their medical treatments.
Compeer is an international nonprofit organization that started in Western New York, and serves children, adults, veterans, and families affected by mental illness. The organization pairs volunteers with individuals who could benefit from increased companionship, bringing them together through events that foster a sense of community and friendship.
Compeer was founded in 1973 in Rochester with just 12 volunteers. Since then, the organization has grown to over 4,000 volunteers, and has become a model for evidence-based programs in the U.S., as well as abroad. Compeer has been recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the American Psychiatric Association, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its pioneering work that aims to support individual recovery, improve mental health, and quality of life. With the help of funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, Compeer has expanded its affiliate offices across the U.S. into Canada and Australia. The international branch of the organization supports the development of affiliate programs around the globe, and houses its headquarters here in Buffalo.
My volunteer experience with Compeer has been extremely rewarding. The activities I do with my mentee refresh my sense of purpose, reminding me that making an impact isn’t always as daunting as it seems. The time that I spend with my friend is a tiny blip in my schedule, but without it, I would surely get caught up in the rat race of everyday life, forgetting what’s actually important to me: Making an impact and helping others. Through very simple actions, I help my mentee feel empowered, valued, and accepted. We play basketball, go on hikes, walk the dogs, and sometimes just hangout.
Compeer asks that volunteers spend just one hour a week (or 4 per month) with their mentee. It’s a small commitment of time that can have an impact that lasts a lifetime. Sometimes Compeer is able to partner with local businesses to offer discounts for its members. During my time as a volunteer, the organization received a grant that allowed it to fund activities to promote physical fitness, which I used to go to Sky Zone with my mentee.
Overall, the organization allows volunteers to make a difference through the simple act of friendship. I’m very glad I took what little time it takes to be a part of my mentee’s life. If you are interested in volunteering with Compeer, reach out to them today by calling 716-831-3331, and visit www.compeerbuffalo.org! Compeer has its roots in Western New York, and has offices in Buffalo, Lockport, Jamestown, Olean, Wellsville, Bath, and Avon.
We welcome your interest in spending one hour a week to make a difference in someone’s life!
Geoff Brown is a pharmacist who resides in Buffalo, the publisher of a local magazine, and a Compeer mentor. See Jeff’s video about Compeer on Instagram at www.instagram.com/compeerbuffalo.