This month’s volunteer spotlight focuses on a volunteer with the Living Room program at the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC). The Living Room is a shared, safe place for OTRC members, many of whom are actively living with and managing behavioral and mental health challenges. The Living Room functions as an empowering healing center, a place for members to come and hang out, eat, volunteer, build a community, and participate in regular group activities.
Lisa has been a dedicated volunteer at the Living Room and shares her story as part of National Recovery Month. Read on to hear how Lisa’s recovery informs her service at the Living Room and why peer representation is such an important piece of recovery.
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What is your name and volunteer position?
My name is Lisa and I am a volunteer in the Living Room.
How long have you been volunteering with the Living Room?
I think it was April, so about five months ago.
How did you find out about the opportunity?
I just was online looking for volunteer opportunities and I read a description and I really loved the idea of this community environment for people with mental health and/or addiction issues, and the vibe of everyone being equal.
"A lot of people will ask me, 'Oh, do you work here?' or 'Are you going to school?' and I’ll say, 'No, I just like being here. I really want to be around you.'"
And have you seen the community environment and structure of equality in practice during your volunteering?
Absolutely, yes. Everybody is here to support each other. I feel like the staff treats everyone that walks through the front door like family. It’s really lovely actually and helpful to me.
I have a history of my own mental illness diagnoses and as well as alcoholism and I was very involved in recovery for a long time, and then I had a relapse for about a year and I think that there is a definite connection between my current sobriety and volunteering.
Do see you role as a peer as important to your work in the Living Room?
Yes, I feel like no matter what our outside life circumstances are, people with mental health struggles and addiction struggles speak the same language. Nothing really compares to that when it comes to feeling a part of a community and even the people who may or may not have the exact same situation for themselves, they understand in one way or another, either through family or other experiences that they’ve had. I feel at home here and I think that’s just because mental health is such a focus here. I come here and I get a lot out of it.
What do you think the importance of a peer is in recovery?
It’s almost everything. If you don’t have anyone to relate to, you feel alone. I think it’s really important for the Living Room to have volunteers too. A lot of people will ask me, “Oh, do you work here?” or “Are you going to school?” and I’ll say, “No, I just like being here. I really want to be around you.” People that come in will say thank you and I’ll say, “Thank you for being here. I’m getting just as much from this as you are.”
"Everything happens here... all of it."
Have there been any stand out moments at the Living Room during your time as a volunteer?
There’s so many, every time I’m here. Just washing dishes with someone and chatting about life is great. I find I have so much in common with people that I didn’t realize I would. And it’s not always about addiction or mental health, it’s just as people. And I’ve really enjoyed doing little craft projects here and there and seeing a smile on someone’s face from having a flower in their hair. It goes all the way from serious to something fun. Everything happens here... all of it.
And, our customary last question: What would you say to someone who was interested in volunteering but was on the fence?
I would say that you must be thinking about it for a reason, so it’s in your heart to do it and you can give it a shot. There’s a lot of opportunities here, so I think there’s something for everyone.