Discovering Strength and Defying Labels

Discovering strengths and defying labels in the Mental Health Community.

Bradley sharing his welding skills to develop garden art at the Homeless Garden Project.

At the Volunteer Center it is our goal transform our community and ourselves through volunteerism, empowering everyone to be the difference. This mission is carried forward in an endless number of ways through our family of programs. Sometimes folks are surprised to discover the variety of what we do.

“You do that as well?!” they say.

Our interactions spans across generations, demographics, and cause. Staff and volunteers are on the ground everyday doing such varied work as bolstering youth, empowering men and women coming out of incarceration, supporting our seniors, training non-profit professionals or teaching new skills to English language learners.

Through Community Connection, one of our longest running programs of nearly 50 years, we are part of  a family of mental health consumers, advocates, and providers who break the stigma of mental illness.

Community Connection grew  in response to a clear need that was recognized in the 1970’s when the Volunteer Center was housed in the complex of County buildings at Emeline Street in Santa Cruz.

Mental health clients and their family members would happen upon our doorstep at the old Emeline building looking for ways to be involved in the community.  Always open to ways to innovate and act upon the belief that every person has a place at the table, Volunteer Center Staff developed a volunteer program to meet this need by finding opportunities that matched their interests and developing group volunteer activities.  They additionally trained staff and volunteers to offer extra support as needed, understanding that new activities can be a source of anxiety and stress for those in the mental health community.

Group gardening became a regular volunteer activity and more programs evolved from there. What started as a volunteer-run pumpkin patch has grown organically into programs that meet the needs of hundreds of people with mental health challenges throughout Santa Cruz County.

We now operate nine community programs and have three sites in Santa Cruz County: Community Connection Harvey West, Cabrillo College Student Services, and the Mariposa Wellness Center in Watsonville. Community Connection is action focused, preparing and connecting consumers to opportunities and experiences that are outside of the mental health community. At the heart of all of our programs is one core belief: that by engaging individuals in meaningful activities that match their interests and talents, people move from self-identifying as a diagnosis to a positive self-identity: friend, employee, volunteer, student.

With 50 years of engagement, learning, and interaction we know without a doubt that a diagnosis does not define potential and every person can play an active role in making a difference in our community.

Bradley is an admirable example of what is possible when one makes the powerful choice to engage and empower himself with the community tools available.  After ten years of employment with basic short term job opportunities, he found himself unable to find a job and without disability benefits to get him through. Bradley reached out to the Career Services Program of Community Connection and worked with the coordinator to determine what he needed to get onto a competitive employment path. He had several years of construction and labor work experience but he wanted a career and skill set more specialized and therefore he chose to enroll in a Welding Program. Still struggling with finances he lost his housing but continued to reach out to his supports at Career Services. He worked on his resume and was informed of a job opportunity at the Homeless Garden Project. Bradley chose to apply for this position and was asked to volunteer to see if he was a good match for the program. Several days later he was hired. One year later he is gainfully employed, attending a final accreditation process at Cabrillo to become a certified welder, and is housed. A wonderful bonus to his new found welding skills is that he contributes lovely art to the garden.

Nothing is more satisfying than empowering  individuals to find happiness in their lives and pride in what they can accomplish.

On Thursday April 21st we will gather for the Annual Community Connection Celebrate Potential Awards Ceremony. For more than 20 years this event has honored and awarded program participants, volunteers, peer staff, and mental health providers for making a difference in Santa Cruz County. All are welcome to join us from 10AM to 12:00 PM at the Community Connection (300 Harvey West Blvd, Santa Cruz)

Come see us in action, or support our work with a contribution.

Donate to Community Connection



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