Connection and a sense of belonging are key in mental wellness, and that is exactly what CMHA Calgary’s Recovery College and Welcome Centre offers.
Incorporating the peer support model, the centre is built on a foundation of mutuality, respect, and equality. It is open to anyone, not only individuals who identify as having a mental illness, to connect, learn, and build their support system no matter where they are at in their journey.
Meghan Reid, the program’s direct supervisor, explains that isolation doesn’t work in recovery, which is why a model like this makes so much sense.
“This is a space where you can just be you,” she explains. “It’s about connection and interaction..”
A registered social worker, who also identifies as a peer herself, Meghan describes the sense of power imbalance between a mental health professional and a client, something she experienced on her own mental health journey.
“I felt very alone, I felt very disconnected. I really struggled with people I perceived as authority figures telling me how to be well in my own journey.”
Peer support works because it empowers individuals to take control of their own journey.
“I think it’s been very powerful for people to feel like they can be their own advocate in their own recovery journey,” she explains. “People are greeted as they come in, and they determine from there what happens. They are in charge.”
Whether someone is looking for light conversation over coffee, to take a course, or to share their story with a peer support worker, CMHA offers a safe, non-judgmental space to just be. Meghan says that she has received great feedback from peers that visit, but she feels that the program is mutually beneficial.
“I have never been part of a team more amazing. They are so open to living in a space of vulnerability and accepting me as imperfect.”
She describes the feeling she gets when she arrives every morning in one word. “Joy.”
“We are all so different, but what connects us in this space, and the feelings we get working here, and the fact that there is that genuineness that exists and that mutual support that is there. We don’t judge each other, we support each other.”
Nigel Mayer, a peer support worker, agrees.
“It’s all about connecting. They are my family.”
Like each peer supporter on the team, Nigel has experienced his own difficult journey and knows first-hand the power of connection. Despite the professional supports he accessed, it was someone sharing their own struggles in order to relate to him that really started opening him up emotionally.
“It was finally connecting with somebody who understood. That changed everything.”
Now, as part of the team here at CMHA – Calgary, he wants everyone who walks through the door to feel that connection and to know that they are capable.
“We are here, not to show them the way, or lead them by the hand, but to walk beside them and say ‘hey, you can do this.’ It’s about building up hope.”
Since opening, CMHA’s Welcome Centre has experienced a dramatic surge in the number of people walking through the doors, and we want to continue to ensure that no one is turned away, that waiting lists aren’t a worry, and that our community knows help truly is easy and accessible. In order for this to happen, we need your support. Your donation can go a long way in helping someone feel like they belong, and that they matter. Donate today.
For more information about the Recovery College and Welcome Centre, visit www.recoverycollegecalgary.ca, or better yet, come by, say hi, and experience for yourself, the warmth and connection.
Visit our campaign page #TurnI2We to learn more about the initiative.