Compeer is an international nonprofit organization which helps aid people in recovering from mental illness by matching them in one-on-one friendships with volunteers.
Compeer is a program of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP), supported by the Chester County Department of Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.
According to the Compeer Chester County website, “The word ‘compeer’ means companion, peer, or equal. By extending the hand of friendship, volunteers restore some joy and hope to men and women living with a psychiatric diagnosis.”
“Making friends. Changing lives,” is the slogan for Compeer Chester County.
Participants in the Compeer program are “referred by a mental health professional and have been stable in their recovery from mental illness for a significant time,” said Bill Kaiser, the Program Manager of Compeer Chester County.
Over the past few years, approximately five WCU students have volunteered with Compeer.
Last year, a WCU graduate student learned about Compeer at the WCU Volunteer Fair and began to volunteer. The student was paired up with a young woman in recovery, who then went on to become employed and is considering volunteering too, Kaiser explained.
Volunteers commit to four hours a month for a full year. If this commitment is not possible, volunteers can apply for an email/pen-pal Compeer friendship. Volunteers are trained by Compeer and given orientation materials.
Currently, Compeer Chester County has 55 in-person friendship matches, 13 phone matches with weekly phone calls, and one pen pal match. That is a total of 69 matches, according to Kaiser.
There are group activities that bring together all of the friendship matches, including an annual “Friendship Luncheon.”
The Chester County branch of Compeer began in May 1999. The first Compeer program started in 1973 in Rochester, N.Y. Kaiser said, “What we hope to provide to volunteers and program participants is an opportunity for two people to build a friendship and to learn from one another. WCU students will learn about what life is like for a person living in mental health recovery and help participants to learn or relearn what it means to be in a reciprocal friendship.”
To volunteer with Compeer, go to http://compeer.mhasp.org/chester-volunteer/.
Theresa Kelly is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature secondary education. She can be reached at TK780615@wcupa.edu.