Volunteers make a difference, and not just in the actual jobs they help complete.
That’s one message that Caity McCardell, volunteer support with Transitions-Mental Health Association, wants to help get across when it comes to the myriad programs the agency offers for volunteers.
One of Transitions’ most well-known programs is the Growing Grounds Farm in Santa Maria, which integrates traditional vocational training with horticultural therapy for persons with mental illnesses. McCardell said the project, which operates a farm stand in Santa Maria and a location in San Luis Obispo, provides numerous volunteer opportunities for people on the Central Coast.
“Growing Grounds has a robust volunteer program,” McCardell said. “Growing Grounds in Santa Maria is really looking for project-based volunteers. For example people who have particular skills in things like bricklaying or construction could come in and help with a particular project. Growing Grounds Farm is always interested and looking for volunteers to help with special projects such as construction or ongoing maintenance of the flowers and the other plants down there.”
Since the operation is a fully functioning farm, many of the volunteer projects center on tasks related to the growing season. McCardell said the program is an equal opportunity volunteer program, open to persons with developmental disabilities and others as well.
Another program open to volunteers is part of a partnership between Transitions and Santa Barbara County: SLO Hotline, a suicide prevention and mental health hotline that provides free support to anyone who calls. McCardell said the hotline program, which has been operating for more than 38 years, requires at least a one year committment and is actively seeking bilingual hotline workers. Training for the hotline begins on Jan. 20.
“They learn a variety of skills including listening and communication skills,” McCardell explained. “It’s a really great service to the community.”
McCardell said another Transitions program is the Recovery Learning Center (RLC) with two locations in Santa Maria and Lompoc. They are run entirely by peer volunteers who are in mental health recovery and oversee the daily activities of other members. RLC is open five days a week and offers classes, a computer, and other tools.
Volunteer programs are essential to gain experience for entry or re-entry to the workforce, she said. For workers looking to expand their training or experience or for students applying to colleges and universities, volunteer activities can make a huge difference.
McCardell said the volunteer programs through Transitions aren’t just about helping complete program tasks or performing needed labor. It’s about continuing to extend the overall mission and message of the organization into the community at large.
“This is an essential part of our outreach,” she said. “We are trying to slow the stigma of mental illness and so for these volunteers to be so enthusiastic is really impressive and important. A young person who volunteers with us is going to spend the rest of their lives thinking about where to donate and engaging with the world in terms of being involved in the social needs of community.
“I love the idea of starting at that young age and thinking about how important this work is. They are absolutely part of our outreach,” she said.
Anyone interested in signing up for the hotline training is asked to sign up via trasitions website at t-mha.org or call Terry Morgan, hotline manager, at (805) 540-6545. Volunteers who want to learn more about Growing Grounds can contact the Santa Maria location at (805) 934-2182. People interested in learning more about RLC can contact (805) 819-0460, Ext. 153. Volunteers will need a referral from their mental health provider and to participate in an RLC orientation.
“People are seeking a connection with their community and to connect with other people,” McCardell said. “There’s a great value to volunteer programs because of that.”
Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose can be reached at [email protected].