On just about any day of the week, you can find The Well Community member Burl Skipwith sitting on the front porch of Jacob’s House, chatting with other residents and calling out greetings to passing neighbors. “Skip” is 57 and battles schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that has features of both schizophrenia and a mood irregularity like major depression or bipolar disorder. He lives in Jacob’s House, a two-story home in Oak Cliff where eight male members of The Well live in a structured community. He’s been there for the past three years and calls it the best boarding home around.
For Skip, The Well and Jacob’s House together have made all the difference in his quality of life. He was 17 when he first noticed something different about himself. He had recently been in a bad car accident and begun to experience strange hallucinations. But at the time, in the ‘70s, brain disorders and mental illnesses were extremely stigmatized.
“If you were different, you were locked up,” he says. “I didn’t want to be one of ‘those people.’”
So, he ignored his symptoms as long as possible, doing his best to live a normal life.
But one thing led to another, and he found himself in and out of a number of boarding homes, while battling diabetes on top of his mental condition. It wasn’t until three years ago, when he learned about an opening at Jacob’s House during The Well’s Thursday Night Life, that things began to change.
“People with mental illnesses get shoved around, pushed around, and they feel like they’re worthless,” Skip says.
The Well and Jacob’s House, on the other hand, are safe spaces for members to gather together in community, he says. These are places those with severe mental illnesses can belong and contribute.
Skip steps in often to support the house manager by volunteering to assist the residents and help in the house on a daily basis.
He’s responsible for grocery shopping and often organizes community events, like watching a movie or eating ice cream.
In addition, he’s dedicated to learning as much as he can about the stigmas and realities of mental illness, doing his best to communicate what he learns to other Well members and volunteers.
“Mental illness may not be curable, but you can learn to live with it,” he says.
That’s what The Well Community is all about: providing a place for members not only to live, but thrive despite their mental health difficulties. It seems to be working for Skip.
“The Well and Jacob’s House are a beautiful things,” he says.
Want to help?
Volunteering at The Well in Oak Cliff is a small commitment that has a great impact on the lives of those who deal with mental illnesses. We are always looking for new volunteers to help with repairs and upgrades to Jacob’s House, serve meals for Thursday Night Life or help with other events. Think you might be interested? Don’t hesitate to call or email! We would love to answer your questions and find the best place for you to use your unique gifts.