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February 22, 2002
Vol. 43 No. 16

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Compeer seeks S.U. volunteers

Compeer, a volunteer program run by the Mental Health Association of the Central Susquehanna Valley, is currently looking for Susquehanna students to participate, according to Denise Smith, assistant coordinator of the program.

Compeer aims to match community volunteers with community peers who suffer from mental health or emotional disorders, Smith said.

Sophomore Ashley Staples is currently going through the training process to become a volunteer.

The Compeer program involves two facets. Volunteers can choose to work with adults or with children through the program, Smith said.

The adult program is broken into three segments, Smith said. Volunteers can choose to visit the peers once a week, call them weekly, or write as a pen-pal.

"In the one-on-one visiting program, the volunteer and peer do things that you would do with your friends," Smith said. "Many of the pairs go to the mall, to the movies, play cards-things like that."

The most successful program, however, is the pen-pal program, Smith said.

"I like the pen-pal program because not many of the people we service are articulate in their speech, but when they write letters we learn that they are very articulate," Smith said.

"Some have really surprised us with their poetry and artistic abilities. It really is therapeutic," she said.

The children's program is more involved than the adult program, Smith said. To volunteer for the children's program, Smith must run a background check on the volunteers to ensure the safety of the child..

"The children's program is similar to the adult program, except there is no calling program. This is because we cannot monitor the calls," Smith said.

All the people aided by the program are referred to the Mental Health Association by social service directors, psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists, Smith said.

"These are people who have been on maintenance and who are progressing, taking their medications and are ready to interact with society," Smith said.

"We've actually had some people who were aided by the program who were able to come back and be volunteers themselves," she added.

Compeer also runs a group project in which many universities participate.

"We run a program where we get a bunch of students together to go into a group home and run activities with the residents," Smith said. "We have so much fun in these activities. A lot of Bloomsburg University students are involved in this project."

Compeer is currently a pilot program for Pennsylvania, although the program is used worldwide.

"We have two programs in Australia and one in Canada," Smith said.

According to Smith, the Compeer program helps build lasting friendships.

"We require that volunteers stay with the program for a minimum of one year," Smith said. "But usually the relationships last a lot longer because a genuine friendship develops between the volunteer and the peer."

"It's a good program because it helps to get rid of the bad stigma that goes along with mental illness," she added.

Many people think of people with mental illness and think of serial killers and the characters portrayed in movies, Smith said.

"This program teaches people that people with mental illness are just like everyone else.

There are probably people in your dorm that have been diagnosed with a mental illness and you would never even know it," she added.

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