Each semester, The Well Community welcomes interns from local universities to learn, hands-on, how to work with people dealing with severe mental illnesses. It is often during their time at The Well students in social work, counseling, psychology and related fields really become aware of the impact mental illness has on individuals. But even more, through their relationship with our members, interns often first confront their own preconceptions as they encounter people with great courage and compassion. Here’s how our most recent intern, Amber, described her own “awakening.”
When Amber began her internship at The Well Community, she was seeking to get to know people with struggles that weren’t familiar to her. A student in the University of Texas at Arlington’s Master of Social Work program with a minor in mental health, Amber shares that she grew up “in a bubble,” in a family that didn’t make an effort to reach out to others. “This [internship] was me making an effort to build relationships with people who are different than me.”
As she got to know members of The Well Community, however, she has discovered common ground. “They’re just like me, a lot of times even better,” Amber shares. “They value things a lot more. They’re content with what they have.” She explains that through overcoming hardships, members have built character and strength, both qualities she admires. “They find joy out of hardship. They become better people when life is hard.”
Through the connections she’s formed at The Well, Amber has been struck by members’ compassion and fortitude. “They’re loving and they’re caring and they’re content. … I love their character; I love their strength. … Media plays them as weak and ill and even lazy, and they’re definitely not. They’re strong and hardworking and talented and caring.”
Amber has seen members care for one another in practical ways, whether offering words of concern or writing cards to others who are struggling. “They value relationships more than I think other people may,” she shares. And, she’s been blessed by the ways members have reached out to her. “They ask me how my evening went, about my kids. They want to know what they can do for me more than what I’m going to do for them,” she says. “They care about me.”
In turn, Amber has had opportunities to care for them as friends. She recalls one member asking for her help in writing a letter. “She wanted to write to a girlfriend to discuss how to express her feelings and that’s something I would do with my girlfriends. … I valued that she trusted me.”
Although at times Amber has felt challenged in coming alongside members who are having a rough day, she’s grateful for the way The Well Community supports individuals that others see as challenging. “We’re there for them when other people aren’t,” she says.
Through interacting with members of The Well, Amber has learned to value people differently. “Value people’s strengths, not the material possessions that they have,” she says, emphasizing the importance of looking at a person’s character and their past. “They been able to overcome a lot in many different ways. … There’s value in what they’ve been able to accomplish, even if they have very little now. Their experience is valuable.”
Amber has also been impacted by watching members enjoy simple activities that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in such as crafts, games or watching a musical DVD. She explains that fun, stress-relieving pastimes aren’t on the radar for people focused on finding food and shelter—concerns for many who live with serious mental illnesses. “They don’t get to enjoy things when they’re just surviving. So, when I bring in activities that they can enjoy … I love watching them. … They get to experience something normal or something not stressful.”
For others considering serving at The Well Community, whether as interns or volunteers, Amber advises to not be afraid to ask questions and approach the experience with a selfless attitude. “Don’t come in and expect anything in return. It’s all about giving.” But, at the same time, she recognizes all she’s received from members. “I’m learning more from them than I’m able to teach them. I’m getting more out of it than I feel I’m giving.”
“Just go in and be positive, she adds. “They need a light; they need positivity.”
As the school year comes to a close, Amber looks forward to bringing her children, a teen and a preteen, to experience The Well as she has. “It’s just a different reality that I’ve been so glad I’ve been able to open my eyes to.”
At the Well Community we are always glad to have caring people spend time with our members and help with activities. Let us know how you’d like to help! Contact us.