Between my volunteer duties and attending a lot of other meetings, I've sat in on over 600 Peer Support Group meetings and am always excited about the amount of information shared among the attendees but what gets me even more excited is when someone had given up on a problem they were dealing with, only to be amazed upon learning from someone else about a solution to that problem. You can see the sense of relief in their eyes and facial expression and that is such a great feeling to experience and reinforces the main reason these meetings take place.
I was at such a meeting last week when a meeting attendee brought up the subject of going back to college and they were unaware of the many wonderful benefits the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) offers to those individuals who want to go to college or get re-trained in a different profession. Another participant at this meeting, who was intimately familiar with DOR's program, happily shared all the details with the group. But she didn't stop there. She also introduced the group to a foundation called Swim With Mike that provides financial resources for the advanced education of physically challenged athletes. This is especially helpful if someone, for example, wishes to go to a private college which DOR does not provide financial assistance.
The look of excitement on this person with SCI and his mother was very visible as they learned that it's easy and doesn't have to cost them anything to go to college. For me, I was just recently told about Swim With Mike by one of our newsletter readers and it was great to learn first-hand from this mom how her son was able to benefit from that program.
At another event, I met the family of a recently-injured man who was languishing at a small hospital. The facility had very little expertise in dealing with someone with a spinal cord injury and the family was over-whelmed with the many challenges any new case of SCI presents. Once again, experience and resources that someone with a good amount of knowledge on these issues has was instrumental in opening their eyes to how they can potentially handle their situation and help their loved one get better care.
Why am I writing about this issue? It is to encourage more of you to attend the Support Group meetings in your area. Being in a gathering of others in a similar situation is an opportunity to not only learn of something new for yourself but may also be an opportunity to share your knowledge with others. I've been to my share of Peer Support meetings that are sparsely attended and always wondered why. There are about 13,000 persons with SCI in Northern California and dare I say that on a monthly basis, there are no more than 200 persons that attend the Support Group meetings that take place in Northern California.
So, yes, Peer Support Groups can be an important part of life with SCI. If you want to learn of the meeting taking place closest to you, check out our SUPPORT GROUPS section. If there is none close to where you live, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org and perhaps we can help launch one in your area.
Franklin Elieh, co-founder