Haiti Relief Effort a 'work of the heart' for Members of LSSI's Journeys

Patricia and Alphonso, and other members of LSSI’s Journeys, help raise money for Haitian earthquake victims.Members of the Journeys program, at LSSI's Portage Cragin Counseling Center on the northwest side of Chicago, took a journey of their own early in February when they organized a "Have a Heart" donation drive to benefit the earthquake victims in Haiti.

During the week of February 8, representatives of the group set up a table in the site's lobby between noon and 1 p.m. to solicit donations. In exchange for their contributions, donors received special ribbons to wear, symbolizing their support of Haiti earthquake victims. In five days, they collected a total of $546, which will be contributed to the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Disaster Relief Fund to help victims of the devastating January earthquake.

"We thought the nation of Haiti could use our funds. Maybe it won't help everybody but it will help some," says Alphonso, a Journeys member, who helped collect donations. "They need all the help they can get out there. It's better to help with money, because [we] don't know what they need."

"The Advocacy in Motion group [one of the special activity groups at Journeys] really took the project on themselves," says Mrugaya Gorde, Journeys supervisor. "They didn't just talk about it; they did it. [The members] pretty much planned it all. We always talk about helping ourselves -- this helped us look beyond ourselves."

The donation drive was "a work of the heart for them," says Jai Lenoir, counselor and facilitator for Advocacy in Motion group, which discusses variety of issues that relate to both self-advocacy and advocacy in the community, for people with mental illness. "They were talking about contributing to others, and one of them came up with this idea," he says. Then group members brainstormed on what they could do and planned the effort. The Crafts and Care group -- another special activity group at Journeys -- made the signs and a beautiful collection box decorated with a Haitian flag.

Alphonso, in particular, was very involved with the project, notes Jai. "After the project wound down, [Alphonso] said it really helped him with his self-esteem to give something for others."

"I felt good [knowing] that I was helping someone who needs help," Alphonso explains. "We're not just thinking about us -- we're thinking about [people] who need help."

"I was so amazed at the response," says Mruguya, adding that members even brought in contributions from neighbors, as well as their own. "It's not so much [about] the money they donate; it's the thought of wanting to help others. Something like this makes you aware of life outside of [your life]. … And together, we can make a difference."

Journeys, also known as Psychosocial Rehabilitiation (PSR), is a community mental health program designed to provide people with a chronic mental illness a safe place to learn, practice and integrate life skills that will stabilize and enhance their well-being. Clients receive counseling and have access to support groups and other programs.