Ellen Strong Klassen was pleasantly surprised by the 40-some volunteers who attended an initial orientation for a new non-profit that aims to assist vulnerable individuals in and around the Comox Valley.
“It was amazing,” Strong Klassen said of the turnout Nov. 30. “Psych nurses taught us about mental health. We broke into small groups and tackled specific issues that we will face when working with the mentally ill.”
After just one meeting, she has been able to form an advisory team — which will consist of front-line workers — as well as an administrative team and a team of advocates. She even plans to have a team of assistants.
However, more people are needed in order to offer the service seven days a week, including evenings and weekends.
“The more people we get, the more varied we can be.”
A retired teacher and registered clinical counsellor, Strong Klassen formed the Comox Valley Advocates Association after undergoing an exhausting journey with a family member who had developed schizophrenia. She spent years advocating for the individual, whose life has stabilized. During the journey, she pledged to do what she could to lessen the agony of other people experiencing similar ordeals.
She has decided to change the non-profit’s name to Strong Centre, which is better suited for growth in surrounding communities.
“There’s many layers to that, to help people find their strong centres,” Strong Klassen said. “It’s kind of a legacy for my family member.
“Because I’m still dealing with this, I do need a lot of help getting this off the ground,” she added. “It’s been tricky. I do what I can, but I’m still supporting someone with schizophrenia on a daily basis.”
The mission of the non-profit is to connect volunteers with vulnerable individuals. A volunteer might help a person fill out forms, accompany him or her to a medical appointment, or sit down and chat over a cup of coffee.
Strong Klassen has made inroads with the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society, the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness and other like-minded organizations. She hopes to receive referrals from Island Health, and from the Salvation Army.
A second orientation is scheduled for Feb 1. The first session, she notes, was largely attended by women.
“A special callout to the men out there,” Strong Klassen said.
Interested volunteers can email firstname.lastname@example.org