Cards Stacked in Favor of Connection at Peer Support Center
The Biddeford Peer Support Center offers a unique space for people with varying experiences to connect with others and enrich their lives. Connection and socialization are essential to Tabitha, who has been attending the Center since 2011 after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) that left her feeling anxious and isolated. It was a difficult and scary time for her, so she needed a place where she could socialize with others.
The Biddeford Center is one of three Centers at Maine Behavioral Healthcare that provide a welcoming environment for anyone age 18 and over seeking to build community and foster a sense of belonging. Any adult who has struggled with significant challenges, a traumatic event, behavioral health issues, or substance use can participate. All center staff are, or working toward becoming, Certified Intentional Peer Support Specialists.
During the pandemic, Centers operated through electronic means but opened back up earlier this year with COVID protocols in place. It’s all about the social component for Tabitha, and she missed attending the Center during the pandemic but is now back to attending most days.
“The Center has kept me sane,” Tabitha shared. “We can talk about anything, mostly good things, to stay positive. It’s great for anyone, people who have problems with drugs or behavioral health issues. The best part is we’re always here for each other.”
Cindy Emerson and David Cloutier are peer support specialists at the Center, and both speak glowingly of Tabitha’s bubbly personality, which makes everyone feel welcome.
One way Tabitha makes people feel comfortable is by inviting them to play a game of cards, like Go Fish followed by a meal. Some Center participants, like Tabitha, enjoy cooking and will bring lunch for all to share. Her favorites are Pasta Alfredo or any Italian dish.
As a fixture at the Center, Tabitha is often the first to introduce herself to new people. “She is so warm and friendly,” said Emerson. “Because she is so comfortable here, she can interact well with anyone and adds so much to the personality of the Center.”
Cloutier agrees. “As people get used to the space and feel more comfortable, they’re able to make the connections that are so important. It helps build self-esteem because too often, we’re told what’s wrong with us — but not what’s right. People here learn what’s right for them on their own.”
For Tabitha, the positive environment keeps her coming back.
“It’s like a family home, and I have everything I need here.”