It’s all about peer-to-peer support

From the McMinnville News Register, December 11, 2011

Participants in the Champion Team peer-to-peer support group might take time out Saturday to search for McMinnville’s elusive blue dinosaur, or perhaps just take a drive in the country.

Champion Team members work together to make Christmas ornaments on a recent Saturday.

Champion Team members work together to make Christmas ornaments on a recent Saturday.

However, whatever they choose will have an important underlying purpose. “Our clients choose the activities, but we have to include recovery in it,” said Outreach Community Liaison Ashley Lee.

Champion Team, which operates out of Abacus House, located at 625 N.E. Galloway Street in McMinnville, offers help for those suffering from mental health and co-occurring addiction issues.

Participants gather as a group for five hours each Saturday. They take advantage of individual drop-in sessions from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.

Recently, the group enjoyed making Christmas decorations. Other topics on their mind include cooking healthy, the healing arts and craftmaking.

The program is open to anyone seeking peer-to-peer support. When they aren’t working, Lee and Executive Director Sharon Moore use the nonprofit’s peer-support services as well.

Not long ago, the team only had four regular members. But now it’s up to 20 or so.

Lee is expecting additional growth in the future, due to changes in the mental health care system.

Funding comes from the Oregon Health Plan. It is routed through the Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network.

Champion Team also conducts local fundraisers.

Moore and Lee maintain office hours for drop-ins on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. “We work a lot on accepting our mental illness,” Lee said.

Recently, a stigma day was held. After viewing videos created by peers, they engaged in some group discussion, then tried their hand at writing up their own stories.

“A lot of it is about being a family,” Lee said.

She said the original impetus for Champion Team was simply non-judgmental social interaction. But she said the focus shifted to recovery as a component of a larger package of services.

Initially, that turned some clients away, she said. But many have returned, realizing recovery-oriented activities can also be fun.

Over the holidays, many people struggle. Those dealing with mental illness and addiction issues can be especially vulnerable.

In response, Lee said, “We try to keep things happy.” The two activities on tap for the season are viewing Christmas lights and going shopping.

Lee said many have learned about the program by word of mouth. She rides the bus, and is quick to pass the word among fellow riders, she said.

Referrals also come from counselors, from physicians and from the host Abacus House.

Currently, much of what the patient pays for services is based on Oregon Health Plan coverage, Moore said. But she said about half of the group’s current participants aren’t enrolled, and that’s where the fundraisers come in.

Lee said services aren’t denied to anyone in need. When they don’t have OHP coverage, she said, “We try and find other ways to fund them.”

Champion Team recently spun off another group calling itself Dual Diagnosis Anon, the latter element being short for “anonymous.”

It is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Focusing on the combination of addictions and mental health issues, it meets at 10 a.m. Tuesdays at True Vine Christian Fellowship, 118 N.E. Fourth St. in downtown McMinnville.

Craig Hinrichs
, program manager for Abacus, emphasized that Champion Team holds its own 501(c)(3) non-profit status and has its own board of directors. However, he said the county provides support and hires the employees.

While entry to the county’s Abacus program is limited to individuals referred by professionals, that’s not the case for Champion Team. Anyone in need can participate through self-nomination.

“It’s a wonderful partnership between them and the Yamhill County Health and Human Services,” said Hinrichs, who is a strong proponent of peer-to-peer counseling. “People who have lived the experience are valuable to help others,” he said.

For more information, call Moore or Lee at 503-434-7523, ext. 4854, or e-mail