Compeer and CompeerCORPS: Adapting Programs to Meet People Where They Are—at HOME!
This blog was contributed by Olga Antonyuk, Compeer Program Director and Jonathan Bittner, CompeerCORPS Program Director
In Delaware County, Compeer of Suburban Philadelphia serves people in the community with mental health challenges, and CompeerCORPS specifically focuses on the veteran community by making co-equal friendship matches for support, camaraderie, and quite simply, friendship. Both programs’ purpose and model thrive on human connection to combat isolation and loneliness. However, the past few weeks have been such a trying time for many people across the country. Some of the hardest hit in our communities are those who struggle with their mental health. Many individuals are being forced to isolate, socially/physically distance themselves, and are being cut off from human contact in all forms. Specifically, for many veterans, this has been an extremely hard time. Many veterans who struggled with mental health issues from their service have spent years getting to a place in their recovery where they are finally able to get out of their houses and be part of society again. These stay at home orders have felt like a step back from the progress they made. No matter how resilient one is, it’s difficult to be restricted for an extended time. Thankfully with programs such as Compeer and CompeerCORPS, people are still supporting each other and getting their needs met within a virtual community. And as always, when our nation needs heroes to step up, veterans across the nation are doing that once again.
Compeer and CompeerCORPS have been making strides to keep people connected and have been taking advantage of modern technology. We know many matches may experience increased anxiety with so much information changing regularly. Certainly, matches can’t meet for coffee, take a walk, and go out to eat as they usually do each month. So, we have been supporting the matches as they transition all visits to phone, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. and increase the number of times they connect. Phone volunteers will continue their phone calls and increase those calls as needed. In addition, we are excited to see existing volunteers reaching out and adding additional matches who are on the waitlist. In fact, one of the Compeer volunteers has taken on four additional friends who will receive a weekly phone call and text. We also continue to hear from veterans who want to help in any way possible during this time. They are volunteering their time to help others who may not have the support they need. The veteran matches also have adapted and have moved towards more remote ways of communications such as phone calls and text messages. Many of the veterans we are serving have been thankful for the continued support
Not only are we continuing to support and connect with every match by phone, email and other video-chat platforms, we continue to accept compeer and volunteer applicants and now carry out individualized training with new volunteers using these virtual platforms. We help the volunteer choose a friend based on location, personal preferences, and shared interests. Volunteers can now be trained in the comfort of their own home and help someone in recovery who needs the extra support. And we are seeing more volunteers who are getting involved during these challenging and isolating times.
Another exciting addition to our program is a Compeer Virtual Support Group with the emphasis of positive thinking. A support group can be a part of anyone’s wellness plan, and it can help those attending to better handle everyday stress in a more positive way.
During this time of physical isolation from friends and family and other challenges we’re all facing during these days, we encourage everyone to stay connected with friends and loved ones while practicing physical distancing. It’s important to support one other during this difficult time, especially if someone you know is facing a mental health concern. Some ideas we’ve encouraged to stay in touch:
- Call and text weekly or more frequently to check in.
- Video chat using Skype, Facetime, Zoom or whatever platform you use to connect – it isn’t as good as getting together, but it is better than nothing at all.
- Remind your friends why they’re special and why their friendship is special to you.
- Create a word of the day/week to describe your thoughts/feelings and share it with your friend.
- Read the same book/magazine and then discuss together.
- See a movie “together” (online of course) and then discuss.
- Be a positive voice during this time…hold each other accountable to limit the time watching the news and find uplifting ways to interact.
If you are interested in Compeer or are a veteran interested in CompeerCORPS and in need of support or are looking to support others during this time, please reach out. We are still here for all of you.
Photo by Anastasiia Kamil via Unsplash