Meet Your Nonprofit - On Our Own

Describe your nonprofit’s mission.
To provide mutual support, self-help, advocacy, education, and information and referral services to individuals who have experienced significant problems in their lives due to mental illness, and who acknowledge this, while advocating for positive changes within the traditional mental health system.

What need in our community brought about the creation of your nonprofit?
Recovery is more successful when a reliable support system is in place. Some recovering from mental health issues do not have any support in place. Some need more immediate help than they can receive at other agencies. On Our Own has evolved to fill those needs by being a low barrier service provider and a long term support system. We provide peer-based support from a place of understanding and lived experience.

How has your nonprofit made a difference in our community?
We operate on the premise that anyone can get well and stay well. We do recover. We see it every day. Through our free groups, walk-in peer support, and personal advocacy programs we are changing lives daily. As special as it is to have a personal impact on lives, we are also changing the landscape of our community. By providing a support system and skills, folks are interacting in our community at a more successful level. Consider “Bob.” He came to us one afternoon in crisis. He was in anger crisis and expressed that he needed to be with us. Immediately, “Bob” was able to join our Even Keel group. Through the skillful work of our facilitator and the support of the group, fifty minutes after being at a heightened state of anger, Bob was smiling and hugging us all. I have no doubt, that if Bob had not come to us and received immediate services, he would have hurt himself or someone who just happened to cross his path, and possibly ended up in jail. The landscape of our community changed that day because of On Our Own, not only for “Bob” but for all of us.

How can community members help you achieve your mission?
We encourage the community to help us by financially supporting us through donations so that we can continue to provide free services to all. We also encourage the community to have dialogue about mental health challenges and we would be happy to facilitate that process. We are also looking for volunteers in our community who may want to act as a personal advocate for our members. Personal advocates are trained and supervised to work one on one with members and help them realize their wellness and recovery goals.

Tell us a story that has come out of your work.
This story was written by a medical student volunteer, Henry Lu , and perfectly captures what we do.

When I first received my assignment to On Our Own in early January, I had no idea what On Our Own even stood for. Was it a program from the elderly to maintain independence? Was it a group home for people that couldn’t find independent housing? I quickly found out that none of my initial guesses were close to correct. When I stepped foot in to the tiny two story house off of 4th street, I was greeted with a bustling group of people all moving about, laughing, talking, and just generally socializing. I was shocked not only by the commotion but by the diversity of people that filled the house, there were kids no older than me sharing a joke with someone that could be their grandmother, there were blacks, Latinos, Asians, people from all walks of life all gathered in the living room of that house. I soon found my guide, the director of On Our Own, Erin Tucker, and she gave me a basic run down of the mission that they were trying to accomplish. Essentially, On Our Own was created as a peer-support center in which people took an alternative form towards treating mental illness. Instead of the traditional model of recovery where a doctor prescribes a treatment and drug to help one recover from an illness, the peer support model relies on others who have faced same or similar struggles to guide and help others who are facing their own mental challenges. This model for recovery was entirely foreign to me, a medical student who had previously only heard of the doctor-patient-drug approach. I can’t lie, I was initially wary of the efficacy of this so-called treatment. How could talking to one another treat a biological condition within someone’s brain? What can the words of a stranger do that medicine can not? In short, I was a skeptic. However as the weeks went on, I found myself slowly and almost imperceptibly being drawn to that house on 4th street. As every Friday approached, I found myself looking forward to sitting in the living room and listening to the stories and advice that people shared. I looked forward to the camaraderie and friendship that seemed to permeate the walls and encompassed all the diverse members that set foot into the house. I was becoming a believer. Soon, I realized that even I was feeling better. Whenever I needed a friendly ear to listen to about the stresses and struggles of medical school, I found ten at On Own. The genuine good will and relatable support that these almost strangers had for me lifted me up in ways that no drug or prescription could ever hope to accomplish.

My story of the effectiveness of peer support is certainly not an uncommon one at On Our Own.

One member I talked to is John S., a member that has been attending groups at On Our Own for over 15 years and has seen On Our Own turn from being the “dropping center”, a place almost akin to a homeless shelter, to the mental health recovery center that it is today. John, much like most members of On Our Own, has had his own share of mental struggles and challenges that like many others were initially only treated with the traditional doctor-patient model. However his life changed 15 years ago when according to him, he “just stumbled across” On Our Own. Since then, he has been a constant presence at On Our Own, striving to help himself continue to recover through helping others through their own recovery. Because John has been one of the most tenured members at On Our Own, he has had years of first-hand evidence showing how effective peer support can be. “Just the other day,” he says, “I saw a woman, a member, crying buckets, talking about how On Our Own had turned her life around.” This story is certainly not unique to On Our Own. For John himself, he reflected on how his life was stagnating before he found his way into the program, and now, even after 15 years, he “still learns something new every day.” The true magic of On Our Own can be best summarized by another quote from Mr. S., “people come in here one way, and they become different, they become a better version of themselves.”

Learn more about On Our Own Charlottesville

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