Interim’s Our Voices volunteers were treated to an evening at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa at United Way’s Annual Volunteer Awards Ceremony April 24th. Carolina Cortez, Assistant Program Director for Community Housing, who nominated the group, and Board Vice President, John Stafsnes, joined them.
The Our Voices Community Room is a gathering place intended to decrease community isolation by providing daily social activities like bingo, arts and crafts, board games, and other activities. While it is open to the community, it is mostly attended by Interim’s Monterey Peninsula housing residents. All of the activities are facilitated by the “volunteer of the day”. There are currently six dedicated volunteers.
Sue Ellen Stringer, who has been associated with the group since it was created in 1981, and her fellow volunteers were excited to have been nominated. Sue talked about how the group was originally founded. Corey Miller, the first Community Housing Program Director, who passed away in 2015, hired Sue Ellen and another client to run Our Voices. Originally, it started as a talking group that would meet after prepared dinners. “They called it a rap group, like talking. We would have ‘raps’ after dinner – it was informal.” The Our Voices group didn’t have a designated place until Casa de Perla was built in 1989. From then on, they were able to establish a more formal meeting place in the building’s community room. Around that time, Sue Ellen had to stop working with Our Voices. She was working towards a Master’s Degree in Social Work at CSUMB, which she eventually obtained, and raising her son.
Until three years ago, peers ran the activities at the Casa de Perla community room, but were paid as staff. When they received notice that funding was no longer available to pay for staffing, the peers immediately organized to continue providing activities as volunteers, to keep the room open from Monday-Friday. They wanted to ensure the Interim community could maintain a location to gather and socialize. The created an advisory council and delegated a day for each volunteer. The Our Voices volunteers are passionate about ensuring the community has a place to feel ‘safe’, ‘welcomed’, make friends, and build community. For those who may have challenges with trust, it can also be a stepping stone to additional services. Guests report feeling comforted knowing there is a place to connect with peers who understand their daily struggles of living with a mental illness.
Having the program activities planned and organized by the volunteers has doubled participation. Sue has facilitated different types of activities, including poetry, creative expression, art, and creative dance. Sue thinks participation has increased because of the Our Voices advisory council. The volunteers usually attend it and voice their ideas about what kinds of activities they want to have.
The Interim community is blessed to have Sue Ellen and the Our Voices Volunteers facilitating these daily social activities!