Why I Care

Retired Attorney Steve VanderClay Befriends Those with Mental Health Challenges

Compeer currently connects volunteers with 42 people with mental health challenges.

By Ilene Denton February 28, 2018 Published in the March 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Retired attorney Steve VanderClay joined Compeer in 2011 as an advisory board member and volunteer mentor. Compeer, part of Coastal Behavioral Healthcare, currently connects volunteers with 42 people with mental health challenges. “We match up with people who feel isolated,” says VanderClay. “We are not their therapists; our job is to be their friends.”

“My first match was a man in assisted living. He has no family and was depressed because nobody cared about him. He said, ‘Just stay with me, visit me.’ I took him to walk around Bayfront Park, to church and to Wendy’s for chili and a Frosty. He had a recent setback and had to go into a nursing home. I visited him three times a week, and [now] I am able to take him out again.”

“I have another match, too, a 38-year-old man who lives with his parents. He’s smart, but he’s got communication issues. We both like science fiction movies, so that’s what we do together.” 

“A Compeer volunteer has to have compassion, to be able to listen without judging. Some volunteers get involved because they have someone with mental health problems. I got involved when a neighbor called me and said, ‘How would you like to go to a meeting today?’ The rest was history.”

“It’s a blessing to me. You don’t do it out of obligation, you care about the person. We start out as volunteers but we morph into friendship.”

For more information, visit compeersarasota.org

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