Nirali, who recently completed her freshman year at Saint Louis University, volunteered in Places for People’s Recovery Center this spring. She is focusing her educational pursuits on psychology and public health, with an ultimate goal of eliminating cultural stigmas toward mental health. We are grateful to Nirali for sharing her experiences as a volunteer.
“When I is replaced by we, even illness becomes wellness.”
My own personal beliefs on illness often revolved around the idea of wellness. To me, it is more than just having the right medication; it is having the right support system, the right positive perspective, and the right environment to foster progress. At Places for People, the variety of services offered truly reinforced and gave me conviction that these values should continue to be upheld.
At the Recovery Center, the walls are decorated with pictures, art work, and posters. Many people who participate in the Recovery Center program have been a part of the Places for People community for years. When I asked Scott, a long-standing member, why he came to Places for so long, his answer touched my heart: “I have been in and out of sobriety, and I have been in some dark places. But the door here is always open, and I have always been welcomed back with open arms, regardless. That is why I stay.”
The Recovery Center offers an opportunity for connection. It is the opportunity for people living with mental illness and substance use to build support systems, and connect with groups that support their healing – not only recovery-focused group therapy options, but also therapy that takes the form of art, music, and community. It is the group outings to the movies and breakfast to help members integrate back into society. It is the opportunity to form lifetime friendships, and a support system. This is what I believe Places for People stands and strives for: medicine and positive environment as a healing mechanism.
Undoubtedly, I have always been a person who cares a lot about who she is and what she does—a little too much. One of the strongest struggles I felt I had to overcome, and still often face, is accepting the idea that at the end of the day, I only am a volunteer. I have my limitations in what I know, what I am capable of, and most importantly, how much I can help an individual. Even though a smile, a conversation, and an ear to lend all go a long way, I cannot change the environment that each member goes home to; often times, it could be the streets. This quality of overinvesting myself, specifically emotionally, proved to contribute to both my successes and difficulties at volunteering.
Each time I walked home from volunteering, I would reflect upon the time spent there. Maybe it was a morning filled with laughter and smiles, or an afternoon in which I heard the story of the pain a member battles with through her tears.
In particular, Scott, whom I had met on my first day and continue to see each week, has heavily impacted me. On any given day, we sat together at a table in the corner giving each other life updates as he plays Solitaire with his revered cards. Almost as consistent as our routine, he would often tell me of how his laptop, iPad, or tablet was causing him trouble. In my eyes, the solution was always simple: if he could only bring the device to the center, we could help him. My strong desire to help made me ignorant of the implications asking for help meant for Scott: the paranoia, anxiety, and potential for the onset of a delusion. This quality blocked me from finding a more realistic way of aiding Scott. This quality kept me from acknowledging and accepting that it may not be in my capacity to do so.
However, at the same time, the passion that I have invested into Places for People allowed me to form meaningful connections that blossomed into friendships over a short span of time. I always take myself back to the first couple of weeks; when two of the members I met during my first week were not there, I felt a sense of social anxiety: who would I talk to? The idea of stepping outside of my comfort zone scared me, but as I went more often, other members began to invest in me, and I invested right back. Again, a little smile goes a long way, and I always walked in happy to be there, happy to see my favorite people.
Now, I walk in with hugs and hellos, embraced with warmth, almost as if volunteering is a service the members do for me rather than me them. I have been invited to accompany members on an outings and have even been able to implement my own ideas into the Recovery Center, and contribute to its expansion.
Passion brings anyone a long way, and I strongly believe that my dedication to the mission and members at Places for People has contributed to the sense of internal bliss that I feel each time I step inside and outside the doors at Places for People.
I’m so thankful for the experiences thus far, and cannot wait to see where the future years at Places for People take me in my own journey with mental health awareness.
If you would like to volunteer at Places for People, please see our Volunteer page for current opportunities.