In 1984, Trinity Covenant Church wanted to find a way to reach out to the community and welcomed new ideas as to how to do this. At that time there were no weekend social opportunities for people who had mental health and/or addiction issues. Victoria Buckley was the director of a community-based day activities program. She met with Pastor John Satterberg and they decided to do a three-month pilot program called Community Partners. A monthly Sunday afternoon meal was set up for people from Metropolitan State Hospital, those living in community residences in the area, and others living alone or with families. The purpose was to provide a non-denominational social time to mitigate the social isolation and loneliness of these individuals and to reach out to people that are usually marginalized and stigmatized due to their mental health and behavioral issues.
After the three-month trial was up, the volunteers and guests decided to continue the event monthly. Eventually, new state contract money became available for programs to be open on the weekends and holidays but very few people had data to show how many would attend. Community Partners knew those numbers and that data helped the contract to be awarded to the local day activities program, separate from Community Partners.
Now Community Partners guests come from many places in the community. Some guests have moved around over the years and the volunteers keep track of the whereabouts of those who want to continue to come. Victoria Buckley organizes the volunteers and volunteers herself monthly.
Community Partners is a monthly event open to anyone who wishes to attend and volunteers provide transportation to individuals living in Acton, Bedford, Belmont, Waltham, Woburn, Watertown, Arlington, and Lexington. Some guests drive as well from Concord, Salem, Malden, and other locations. On the third Sunday of every month, about 40 to 60 guests know they can count on having dinner, conversation, and holiday-themed events.
This group is a model of community integration that has been duplicated in England through the efforts of a former volunteer, as well as the subject of a doctoral seminary thesis.
Community Partners helps guests feel accepted and not judged. A natural development of this monthly outreach has been that occasionally volunteers will go above and beyond in emergency situations, such as providing gas money, food, transportation, assistance with RIDE applications, help with benefit questions and even fuel assistance. The group has had two weddings, several funerals, and even a baby shower. In this way, it is a natural social event where people celebrate and share together. Friendships between guests commonly start or strengthen as a result of being together monthly at Community Partners.
The group is open to everyone, without exception. Some guests come after hospital discharges, some by word of mouth, and some from local clubhouse programs. Some guests have chosen to start attending church as well, while others just attend monthly, calling when they need a ride. As for the church’s side, many church members volunteer to cook, clean, or help with transportation. Over the years, volunteers have ranged in age from 8 to 95. A special fund at the church provides money for the dinners. At Christmas, each guest puts a wish for a gift on a tree and church members purchase gifts for everyone.
Community Partners has been an ongoing social support outreach that helps people feel like the community cares and that they can be accepted as individuals and guests. Its success for 30 years can be attributed to the wonderful dedication of the volunteers, the incredible courage and resourcefulness of the guests to be part of their community, and the strong commitment of Trinity Covenant Church.