Blog /Social Inclusion
Social Inclusion means that we all matter – every person has value, and each of our contributions are important to the wellbeing of the community. Those of us in recovery from mental health or substance use, can inspire others to move beyond misperceptions and the nuances of exclusion when we speak the truth of our recovery experience. We are led by our vision of a welcoming community in which we are all equal and free to live, love, learn, lead, work, pray, and play.
The goal of the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign, led by PEERS, is to create these welcoming communities throughout our county. Our work is eliminating mental health stigma and discrimination. As a consumer-run nonprofit, most campaign staff and volunteers are people who have discovered our value and gifts in spite of our mental health challenges. The authenticity of our lived experience of mental health recovery is expressed through three core modalities in our campaign to change hearts and minds toward inclusion and social justice: Empowerment, Spirituality, and Outreach & Education.
Our Empowerment events, such as Empowerment through the Arts, Mindful Movement, and Sisters Circle introduce innovative wellness practices to people who want to heal, find their voice, and give back. Focusing on personal wellness and peer relationships, we open our doors to interested community members for an array of open events that promote self-awareness, build confidence, and foster connection.
Spirituality and spiritual practices are often a key component of wellness plans. Through the Spirituality link of our campaign, we provide a safe space for consumers, family members, providers, and representatives of faith communities to dialogue and learn together how to open minds, expand hearts, and increase access to culturally responsive mental health and wellness services each month.
The Spirituality work has been a key to engaging mental health awareness in the African-American community. Though our work with the African-American Action Team and the Mental Health Friendly Churches project, we are reaching out and teaching about mental health recovery and resources to empower communities to access care and support.
Our Housing Action Team unites representatives of 11 Alameda County housing programs to collaborate with mental health advocates on projects, raise mental health awareness in housing programs, and educate consumers of their rights to affordable housing. By developing a class to promote skills and resources for shared housing, we will offer WRAP for Housing as support. Our speakers bureau Lift Every Voice and Speak regularly delivers mental health recovery presentations at housing sites to educate residents and staff.
When one of the Outreach Peer Educators from Lift Every Voice & Speak courageously shares her personal story of overcoming stigma and challenges to live a life of service and connection and giving back to their community, we connect with our audience through our shared humanity. When a person with a mental health label claims his wholeness, value, gifts and commitment to creating welcoming spaces for others, everyone who listens is inspired to let go of common misperceptions and see the person behind the label.
In the Fruitvale District, we are working with volunteers, community members, veterans and immigrants to design and build a Peace and Wellness Garden on the grounds of the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park (PHHP). The garden features a paved storytelling circle with a flagstone bench-in-the-round. It will be inscribed with hope-filled messages of healing from trauma, finding and sharing our voices, and connecting with community. We broke ground on the Peace and Wellness Garden on February 12th. We are hosting a Community Storytelling event at the PHHP site on April 20th. The opening of the Peace and Wellness Garden in May will be a festive celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and our shared commitment to creating peace and wellness for ourselves and our larger community.
Stay up to date on the many monthly activities of the campaign by visiting the calendar at www.peersnet.org/calendar. Or subscribe to our monthly updates by e-mailing your request to Christal Byrd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During this year's CASRA conference I attended "The Healing Power of Stories: the Basics of Storytelling" workshop. I really hoped that workshop leader Bobbi Fischer would reveal a fresh approach that I might be able to share with our PEERS’ speakers’ bureau, Lift Every Voice & Speak!, and further empower our presenters.
At the beginning of this workshop, Bobbi laid out a framework in which a storyteller defines the parameters of the story he or she intends to tell. The idea is to identify and capture all key facts and details in writing first. That way, once the storyteller begins speaking, he or she is freed up to connect with listeners heart to heart. The key details include who the intended audience is and what specific impact the speaker wishes to deliver, and ordinary specifics about their story such as who, what, where and when.
Initially, I listened with both hope and doubt as Bobbi led us through a two- page worksheet. Still dubious as Bobbi shared an emotionally compelling personal story, I was moved to a state of awe and excitement during the second half of the workshop as, one by one, participants from the audience stepped up to use their notes on their worksheets and opened up to speak. The workshop participants shared powerful stories of recovery, hurt and healing, dreams, and visions being fulfilled. Each one spoke with clarity and conviction, each one speaking directly from the heart.
What I really loved about this approach is that it is not just for members of our speakers' bureau. Every one of us is a storyteller for the cause of creating welcoming communities free from stigma and discrimination. Every time we go to a meeting, ride in an elevator or stand in a line--we have the opportunity to share our personal two- minute “elevator story.” Let’s all plan ahead to fully use the power of direct contact!
If you want to tell your story, think about your intention ahead of time. Think about the pertinent facts. If you’d like a copy of Bobbi’s worksheet, please e-mail me at email@example.com. Let’s prepare ourselves to speak truth for change. Once you’ve walked through the steps, then take a deep breath, open your heart and let your voice do the rest. We are a powerful force for wellbeing and inclusion. We are the change!