“Walking into Stepping Stones for the first time I had no idea what to expect or what I wanted to achieve. I just knew that I had to do something.”
Charlotte’s* journey to the Stepping Stones door two years ago has been a long one. Like most people, she has had some challenges in her life. Unlike most people, she has faced those challenges with an undiagnosed mental illness, bi-polar disorder. But now that she has arrived, she has never looked back.
Stepping Stones is a Family Works programme for adults living with mental illness. The group supports people to learn new skills, enjoy social activities, share their knowledge and talents with others and experience positive relationships with people in their community. As the name suggests, Stepping Stones creates a pathway from social isolation to inclusion and connection with the local community.
Based at Macandrew House, South Dunedin, Stepping Stones has been operating in the community since 1996. More than 250 people have participated in the programme over this 20 year period. However, it is not only participants who benefit from Stepping Stones, our community does too. Charlotte’s story illustrates how.
Just three years ago Charlotte was in hospital receiving electro convulsive therapy (ECT) for her bi-polar condition, and struggling with alcohol addiction. It was a real low point in her life. It was also a turning point. With the support of her sister and Alcoholics Anonymous, she gave up drinking. But without work Charlotte was increasingly isolated at home. Her nurse encouraged her to visit Stepping Stones. Although it took a while to build up the confidence to do it, she arrived at Stepping Stones and immediately felt welcome and accepted.
With low self-belief, initially Charlotte remained quiet about her culinary skills. However, last year when the group decided to hold a fundraiser breakfast, Charlotte was keen to be involved. By now she felt confident enough to volunteer her skills and knowledge to help make the breakfast a success. She did a wonderful job and earned high praise from her friends. With this positive experience and encouragement under her belt, she began to think about new possibilities for her future.
Charlotte started looking for work. Handling the inevitable rejections was tough but with support from the group, she persisted. Charlotte is now working part-time as a kitchen assistant in a care home in South Dunedin, close to her home. (She still volunteers to make lunch each week at Stepping Stones).
Stepping Stones has helped Charlotte and many others to move out of isolating, disconnected, unhealthy and often unhappy living situations, to more engaged, fulfilling and productive lifestyles.
The service provides a safe, non-judgmental and positive environment, where opportunities are offered and individuals encouraged to take them up. The programme is not time-bound and does not aim to “fix” people. The success of Stepping Stones over the past 20 years and into the future, lies in its acceptance and respect for people as they are, and in its capacity to connect participants with the community in which they live.
Here’s to another successful 20 years for Stepping Stones and all who tread there!
* Name changed to protect identity