A welcoming, understanding community where everyone feels at home.
We’d all like it, but try as we might, we don’t always get it. For those amongst us suffering from mental health challenges, the barriers to achieve the goal of a supportive, inclusive community can be extremely challenging – sometimes insurmountable.
It’s been just over six years since the Revelstoke Awareness & Outreach Program set out to create a welcoming, understanding, peer-support home in our community for those struggling with a broad spectrum of mental health issues.
This Friday, they’re welcoming you into their home.
As part of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week (May 7–13) the Revelstoke Awareness and Outreach Program (RAOP) is welcoming you into their downtown centre for an open house this Friday.
The RAOP centre is a small, boxy storefront located in the alleyway between the Regent Inn and the Revelstoke Mountain Resort showroom.
“The whole idea is it’s a clubhouse,” says RAOP program facilitator Peter Waters. “It’s there to support people with mental health challenges.”
The small clubhouse is a community support centre for those living with mental health challenges such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Waters and a core group of facilitators organized and campaigned to open the centre about six years ago. They wanted to fill a void for those living with mental health issues, often after diagnosis and treatment had commenced. “Very often, especially when they were going through real struggles, we tend to shut ourselves in,” Waters said. “Both those things are the worst things possible you can do.”
What was wonderful is that the community all rallied around to support RAOP opening. We had wonderful contributions formerchants around town for drywall, and lumber and paints and all the stuff you need,” Waters said. “It was actually quite overwhelming the way the community came to support it.”
About 10 members currently use the the drop-in space on a regular basis; up to 20 currently drop by now and then.
RAOP offers a weekly drop-in schedule that includes crafts, games, arts and chats. A CMHA liaison organizes special outings – things like a bus trip to Glacier National Park.
I sat down with about 10 RAOP members last week to find out what having the centre means to them. Due to confidentiality reasons, I agreed to put down the notepad and just listen.
The main room is decorated with watercolour paintings members and their teacher have produced during art class. There are photographs from field trips and past birthday celebrations. The wall is lined with pamphlets and other links to mental health resources. Most of us sit around a large table, while a couple rest in large leather sofa chairs. Tea, coffee and cookies are laid out for the weekly chat session.
For one long-time Revelstokian, a battle with mental health issues meant leaving work and losing social contacts. When we suffer from physical health issues, like a broken leg, friends send a get-well card. Unfortunately, with mental health issues it’s often not the same. On the street clients often deal with social stigma, adding another barrier to community connection. The RAOP centre is a place where you’re accepted and can speak openly about your struggles.
Another centre member was a relative newcomer to town, which meant making lasting social connections here in Revelstoke even harder.
Photo: Peter Waters
Several told me RAOP was a safe place to come to listen and be heard.
The centre operates on a shoestring budget, getting by with a little help from their friends. It started with many kind donations to refurbish the former Revelstoke Unique newspaper office into a two-room activity centre. The community spirit of giving has continued from there. A local lawyer helps with free legal advice; artists volunteer to lead painting classes, for example. “We run on a very tight budget and we have to work within that budget and we do,” Waters said.
The centre operates on a referral basis. Doctors and mental health professionals refer clients to the centre for peer support, often after they’ve received professional attention to get acute issues under control and managed.
“The reason we have an open house is that sometimes new people, or other people that have been here some time are not aware that RAOP exists,” he said, adding the emphasis was on welcoming everyone to the event. “What has evolved is there’s not so much the awareness and outreach aspect of that, except when we have occasions like this when we can make this more important.
“The theme is it’s permanent and that is it is a safe, comfortable friendly environment for people with mental health disorders,” he added.
The RAOP centre open house takes place this Friday, May 11 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome. They are located in the alley off of First Street East between the River City Pub and the Revelstoke Mountain Resort downtown showroom.
Subsequent to the publication of this story, Peter Waters contacted us to make readers aware that RAOP does received funding from Interior Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association.