February 9, 2004
Spring Harbor Volunteer Program
"The program has been more successful than anyone thought it would be," reports Julie DeLaite, Spring Harbor's volunteer coordinator. "We have close to 50 volunteers right now, which, for our hospital’s size and the nature of our work, is just where we want to be."
Launched a year ago on the strength of a grant from the Davis Family Foundation of Falmouth, the Spring Harbor volunteer program has attracted volunteers from 15 to 66 years old. Some work in administrative areas. Others, known as "friendly visitors," play games, read books, and work on art projects directly with patients. There are even volunteers who serve at the Network’s outpatient mental health clinic on Vaughan Street in Portland.
Many, like Sara Bissonnette, are students. She works with children in Spring Harbor Hospital’s on-site school for four hours each week.
"I was working with a boy 6 or 7," she says, "He looked up at me and said, 'I like school. School is fun here.' It was so meaningful to hear that."
DeLaite believes that volunteers like Bissonnette who have positive experiences at Spring Harbor can serve as community ambassadors for the hospital. "They go back out and let people know we're doing good work," she says, "which can help us reduce the stigma of mental illness and raise awareness about mental health issues."
The program recently received a $5,000 grant from the TJX Foundation. Additional grant money is still being sought and regular fundraisers are held to help support the fledgling program.
To learn more or to join the corps of volunteers within Maine’s Mental Health Network, contact DeLaite at 761-2314.
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