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By Jon Williams, MA

Like many people, I was taught from childhood that while my toy trucks and action figures were mine, I should allow others to play with them if I was not using them. We have all been taught to share what we have and what we can from an early age. This lesson was reinforced during our school years and we were taught how to play well with others. Even as employed adults, the essence of sharing is found in every vocation: the core of all jobs involves giving something of value to others. People that work in community mental health centers are accustomed to sharing. We share our compassion, experiences, insights, assistance, and knowledge with others that may not have the same resources available to them. Most people who work in the mental health field derive fulfillment from sharing with clients.

During my years working as a child therapist, I noted that many of my clients experienced difficulty around Christmas time. They would tell me all the things that they wanted, knowing that it was unlikely that their wish list would be fulfilled. When asked what they were going to do for other people for Christmas, most of them said that they didn’t have anything to give. I worked with them to realize that financial means do not limit our ability to share with others. Many of my clients decided that they wanted to do some-thing that they thought was important. They volunteered to work at a toy drive, because they wanted to help other kids that were less fortunate to receive some of the gifts that they could not otherwise get. I knew that many of my clients would themselves be eligible for this community resource and was moved by their expression of compassion for others.

December in Pennsylvania can be incredibly cold, yet many of my clients stood outside in the blustery conditions ringing a bell and engaging passersby to donate to the toy drive. After Christmas passed and I resumed therapy sessions with my clients, each and every one of the children that participated in the event spoke proudly of their participation in the toy drive. Not one of them talked about what they received as gifts. The clients that I worked with that did not participate grumbled and complained about the things that they did not receive.
The empowerment of clients is a core principle of The Apalachee Center mission statement. Doctors, ARNP’s, therapists, care man-agers, behavioral health techs and all of our front line workers may try many different ways to assist clients through the recovery process, but, for both clients and staff, this can be very hard work. Early trauma, emotional and behavioral problems, severe mental illnesses, and the social prejudice that many clients experience, have often taken their toll on our clients’ perception of their own self-worth and abilities.
It can be a highly empowering experience to participate in volunteering. Volunteering has a higher level of value when one of the following 5 reasons is met at a personal level:

1. Values: To satisfy personal values or humanitarian concerns.
2. Community concern: To help a community such as a neighborhood or ethnic group to which you feel attached.
3. Esteem enhancement: To feel better about yourself or to escape other pressures.
4. Understanding: To gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.
5. Personal development: To challenge yourself, to meet new people and to make new friends, or to further your career.

Every person has something that they can contribute and share with others. The act of giving back to others is a powerful experi-ence, especially when you feel limited in what you can give. It may be a sacrifice to give up personal time while volunteering, yet the sacrifice contributes to the sense of worth associated with the outcome of the volunteer experience.

Individuals in recovery from psychiatric or substance abuse issues can greatly benefit from the act of volunteering in their commu-nity. Volunteering is an intrinsic expression of personal empowerment and commitment to a greater purpose. We strive to help oth-ers that have needs that they may not be able to meet independently, and those we help can in turn, help others. Encourage those you work with, whether staff or consumer, to find a passion that they can volunteer with and become an agent of change in their own lives and their community.

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