After my mental health crisis in the summer of 2018, I took part in the out-patient Transitions program at the Hope Centre. The leader of the WRAP group (wellness recovery action plan) was MJ Moore, Volunteer Coordinator at the Kelty Dennehy Mental Health Resource Centre at the Hope Centre.
MJ was one of the most welcoming, non-judgemental people I had ever met. Not only did she do a fantastic job leading the WRAP program, she encouraged me, and others, to volunteer at the Kelty Centre. Not because the Centre needed more volunteers, but because MJ knew what a positive impact volunteering could have on people’s lives, and she could tell I was desperately in need of that at that point in my life.
I went from being a successful paralegal in a downtown law firm to being a successful instructor at a local university. A poorly handled student mental-health crisis at the university where I taught led me to my own mental health crisis, resulting in a clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The extreme stress for a prolonged period, while teaching students full time, was too much for my brain and my body to handle.
Not thinking I was capable of doing anything anymore, let alone volunteering in a resource centre, MJ continued to encourage me to come out and give volunteering a try. Eventually MJ’s perseverance paid off and she successfully recruited me as a volunteer. She started small. She convinced me to show up and sit at the Centre for one hour, to be a welcoming face for people who stopped by. I thought okay, I know how to sit, I can be a welcoming face. No actual ‘tasks’ needing to be accomplished.
Fast forward a few months and I became a regular volunteer, one day a week for three hours at a time. My main task became putting together a Volunteer Manual that became a resource manual for new volunteers.
MJ was my biggest fan and she later encouraged me to apply for the Centre Coordinator (paid) position. I (hesitantly) applied. Fast forward another few months and I ended up being a paid member of staff at CMHA. Who knew where that first day of volunteering would lead to.
But the positive impact of volunteering doesn’t end there. You guessed it, fast forward some more and I felt it was time to try and re-enter the legal field. I was not ready to work as a paralegal or university instructor again (and with the help of my phenomenal psychologist I now know it is okay to never return to those positions – a career title no longer defines me), but I did want to re-enter the legal field if possible as I always loved it and was missing it.
I applied to the Superior Courts Judiciary and was hired as a Judicial Administrative Assistant. I was extremely hesitant to re-enter the business world, and extremely humbled to be working alongside two of my former students.
Three years later I am so happy that I took this leap of faith and said yes to this position. Once again, MJ was one of my biggest supporters. While she was sad to see me go, she knew it was the right decision for me. She was so proud of the progress I had made (and continue to make) on my recovery journey.
I owe a huge thank you to MJ for encouraging me to volunteer at the Kelty Centre. MJ played a huge role in me regaining my confidence and leading me onto my path of recovery. I have gone back to visit MJ and told her that I would love to volunteer at the Centre again. She knows I am busy and can’t overextend myself and said she would be happy if I just came by for a visit and a cup of tea. Covid somewhat got in the way of this, but I know we will stay in touch, and I know we will have tea together again soon.
MJ, thank you. Thank you for encouraging me to volunteer. Thank you for supporting me this entire time. And thank you, CMHA, for accepting me as a volunteer, hiring me as Centre Coordinator, and sending me off with truly genuine well wishes as I re-entered the legal field. Words can’t express my gratitude and can’t begin to describe the positive impact volunteering has had on my life.
Since the start of the pandemic, for the past three years I’ve been volunteering with CMHA to lead guided meditations for Kelty centre clients once a week online. Participants often share how valuable the connection with each other is, as we often have the same core group that show up each week. This creates a great sense of community and support for participants and for myself as a volunteer too.
This hour each week also provides a much-needed change of pace in my day, juggling daytime employment and self-employment in the evenings. Also, at a time when we were locked down and isolating, connections were key. What I appreciate most about hosting weekly meditations are the participants. The conversations we have, the reflections and discussions before and after our meditations really help remind me what a group dynamic can bring and how important community is. Not just for those attending but for myself as the teacher too. It is powerful to connect with others, find meaning together and support each other wherever we are at. I am grateful for the opportunity to give back to services that have helped me all those years ago.
We are truly better together.