'On Your Own' Peer Support Initiative in Charlottsville VA

They’ve been there, done that and recovered from it. Now they’re doing something for others.

Members and staff at Charlottesville-based On Our Own can be found on the street, at state hospitals and in local agencies, anywhere that those with addictions, depression or any form of mental illness may be found.

And they’re there to help.

“We believe that those who are in recovery are in the best positions to help others who want to recover,” explained Rose Farber, On Our Own director. “We’re there for people who want recovery, not those who need it. If you want it, you’ll work for it. If we to try and serve everyone who needs to recover, we’d have to be in the John Paul Jones Arena.”

Lemonade for your health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So, throughout the month, members of the organization will be on the Downtown Mall for events that promote awareness of mental health issues and raise funds for the organization’s programs.

Among the offerings will be informational booths and tables set up near the free speech monument. There will be a 5 cent per glass lemonade stand with peer counselors, a meet-the-therapist day and tapes that demonstrate what people hear if they are psychotic, Ms. Farber said.

On Our Own provides a vast array of services, from a place to hang out during the day, have a soda, munch lunch and get your mail to counseling and group meetings. The nonprofit provides emergency monetary support. It helps find jobs and eases people into a working environment.

And it puts those who have done the work out in the community to help those who want to do it.

“All of our services are 100 percent free, but the program is built on service, not entitlement,” Ms. Farber said. “When you’ve reached a point in your recovery, you should reach out to someone else, to give back to the community. That’s something we expect our members to do, once they’re ready.”

Help for anyone

Those who are on the way to recovery try to help those with mild and moderate mental health issues who want help. They’re not professional counselors, however, and people who have more serious issues are referred to Region Ten Community Services Board.

“We have a great relationship with Region Ten and they do a wonderful job,” Ms. Farber said. “They work with us well and so do the police departments.”

Some of the programs that will receive the funds raised during the month include emergency vouchers and pay vouchers.

If members are in danger of missing rent payments or utility bills, vouchers may help stem the emergency. If members are ready to start working, but maybe not be quite ready for a slot with a private business, the organization will pay them to do volunteer work.

“It’s a way to give a member work experience while they continue working on their recovery,” Ms. Faber said. “Even though our folks are capable, they are often the least likely to get hired for a job. This gives them a chance to develop the skills they need and contribute to the community.”