Peer group aids, helps distressed
Support center serves, relieves those in need
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 14:10
When life gets overwhelming and a person’s mental health may be at risk, there are people at Contra Costa College who are ready to listen and provide help.
The Peer Support Wellness Center, run by the health and human services department, is open in H-9 Monday through Friday helping to ensure students a safe place to talk to someone.
“The hope is that we demystify mental illness, pain and suffering, work better and become the place where students know they can get assistance and help,” health and human services department Chairperson and Director of the Peer Support Wellness Center Aminta Mickles said.
“This effort would not be possible without the students and collaborators.”
The Mental Health Consumer Concerns Corporation funds supervised provider-intensive rehabilitation training, which is known as the Spirit Program, Mickles said.
The Collaborative, a Bay Area based organization engineered to help train mental health professionals, also funds the psychosocial rehabilitation sessions.
The purpose of the Peer Support Wellness Center is to give students in the health and human services field hands-on experience in counseling lives on campus and in the community.
Former client and health and human services major Nicole Alexander said she knows, firsthand, the benefits of the program.
“I feel more empowered, and I have a solid testimony I can share with others,” she said.
Once involved in an abusive marriage to a combat Marine, Alexander said she found it difficult to find a reason to live after her marriage ended.
Help from the Peer Support Wellness Center encouraged her, helping her find a sense of worth and a reason to live she said.
Alexander now shares her experience as evidence with other clients. The health and human services department opens its doors every Friday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to military students and veterans within the community.
The wellness center is open on Mondays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays 1 to 6 p.m. and Fridays 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Program manager Mady Willie said that when students see familiar faces, they feel more comfortable to express their feelings and the issues they face.
“We have students coming in with a lot of stressors — depression, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse and homelessness,” she said.
“They come to us looking for resources for clothing, food, housing and one of the major (issues) is grief and loss because of all the violence going on within our cities,” Willie said.
Health and human services major Babs Smith, also a member of the program, was a run-away from the Midwest.
Smith has been an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) member for 25 years.
She entered a vocational school for her addictions that led her to obtain certification as a licensed vocational nurse. She then began working as a nurse in the maternity and intensive care units for newborns. Later, she attended City College of San Francisco to obtain her license as a registered nurse.
However, she would later face a hurdle when she suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving her out of a job, which led her into a state of depression.
“If I wasn’t able to work I needed to do something,” she said. “My heart was shrinking, because I was not giving.”
She came back to school at the age of 55 to fight against her depression and took an art class.
Once she became emotionally stronger, her friend from the AA program advised her to become a drug and alcohol counselor, she said.
In 2008, Smith entered the health and human services program.
She has been a participant in the program for two semesters and hopes she is able to give the same support she received.
“I hope I am able to give some loving kindness because that’s what kept me (going),” Smith said.
Health and human services major Ron Beacham struggled with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions. Beacham said peer support, along with fellow students, helped him tremendously.
“It’s like an extended family,” he said. “Now I look forward to coming here, studying and hanging out (at school). I can concentrate (because) I get support.”
The Peer Support Wellness Center and its team of partners go beyond the CCC campus to heal the community and spread the message of mental wellness.
Partners include Contra Costa County Mental Health Services, Gateway to College, four-year institutions like John F. Kennedy Law School and UC Berkeley and many non-profit organizations like the Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church and Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church.
“We’re taking the program and spreading the message about mental wellness and healing to churches and community events in Oakland, Pinole and Sacramento,” Mickles said.
“This is my assignment not my work or job. I have a gift — we all (at the Wellness Center) have a gift to want to give back because we all have had to survive life’s challenges.”