ELMIRA, N.Y. (WENY) -- Support for people living with mental health issues is sometimes hard to find, however, one program in Chemung County is aiming to create lasting relationships to help.
The Compeer Program originated in Rochester back in 1973, and has been in Chemung County for the past 25 years.
"I love working in the community and giving back to the community, especially children, and watching them grow and succeed," says Donna Taylor, Director of Family Services in Chemung County.
Taylor explains that the ultimate goal of the group is to provide friendship to students and adults with mental illness, and those identified as "at-risk" -- all
through the power of community.
"Having that extra person sometimes can make the world of difference because it's not mom or dad or brother or sister so it helps them to grow," Taylor says.
There are multiple programs under the umbrella of Compeer.
One is called "Circle of Friends" which services students grades K - 6th in the Elmira City School District. WENY News had the chance to observe a group at Beecher Elementary School one afternoon, where students and community volunteers spent time making Valentines cards for elderly citizens in local nursing homes.
"Basically the students that attend Circle of Friends have a tendency to always be in school, they improve their grades, they improve their behavior, their overall socialization and interacting with each other in the schools," Taylor explains.
The next level is called the "PAL Program." This bridges the gap between 6th grade and adulthood and occurs outside of school hours. Volunteers and their matches spend quality one-on-one time together for a few hours each week.
"Some kids just need help...from outside the family and a lot of them don't have it," says Hailey Edwards.
Hailey is 15-years-old and has been with her PAL, Shelia Coleman, since the age of seven. Hailey says they've formed a bond like no other.
"She helps me when I feel sad and depressed. She helps keep me up and happy...energetic almost!" says Hailey.
"I'm glad to be able to be a person to help show her other things that she might not get to see, encourage her...where sometimes you want someone besides family. I've seen her grow from a little kid to a young lady now," PAL Mentor Sheila Coleman says.
From Hailey's perspective, the program offers many benefits for young adults who may need or want guidance and support from someone they can look up to.
"It would help them with a lot of things - get them away from their family if there's a family issue, it would help them become aware of things outside of their
home and maybe even outside of their town," Hailey explains.
Compeer Program Director Donna Taylor says right now, the Compeer Program in Chemung County has a pressing need for more community volunteers to get involved.
"I currently have almost 100 kids in Circle of Friends waiting for volunteers to come work with them. I have almost 21 kids on the PAL Program, mainly males, that are definitely looking for a male role model to engage with them. And then my adult program has people on a waiting list, too, that are looking for engagement opportunities," says Taylor.
The adult program services people 18-years and older and focuses on socialization and community engagement skills. People are often referred to the Adult Compeer Program through other treatment services.
If you are interested in becoming a community volunteer for the Compeer Program, contact information is below.
Chemung County Compeer Program
310 Pennsylvania Ave, Elmira, NY 14904
Donna Taylor - Compeer Director
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/CompeerChemung/