Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness Through Volunteering

Salvation-Army-with-Credit-217x300It’s been almost six months since Christmas and many of us might find it difficult to even remember what we were able to accomplish during the rush of the holiday season.  On May 17, 2010, the Consumers of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Engel Adult Day Treatment Program received a nice reminder of what they accomplished, when they were awarded the 2009 – 2010 Volunteer Group of the Year by the Salvation Army.  This award is in recognition of each Consumer’s outstanding service and commitment to help others.

For the last nine years, Consumers and staff have participated in the annual Angel Tree Christmas activity in Birmingham.  It began as an opportunity for the Consumers to provide a service to their community and over the years, it has also become an avenue to educate others regarding mental illness.

With popular Christmas carols playing in the background, each Consumer worked side-by-side with other community volunteers to quickly transform the empty warehouse into Santa’s Workshop.  No matter what the assignment, the Consumers were always eager to lend a helping hand.  From the first days of sweeping floors and assembling boxes to the last days of organizing and filling the requests of each ”Angel”, the Consumers were there to ensure that Christmas would be a joyful time for all.

Each year, the comments made by the Consumers have a common theme, “I feel good knowing that I’ve been able to help other people”.  This experience has encouraged several of the Consumers to volunteer their time to other community projects.  As one Consumer said, “every time I go out and volunteer, I’m doing my part to reduce the stigma of mental illness”.