By David F. Rooney
Think of RAOP, aka the Revelstoke Awareness and Outreach Program, as the little group that could.
They started in an obscure location with a mandate that not everyone in the community understood: to provide a safe place for Revelstokians with mental illnesses to gather and, with the help of well-meaning supporters, gradually build their self-esteem and interact with the rest of local society on a more normal basis.
Some people doubted their capacity to sustain themselves as a group; these people were mentally ill, after all. But the dozen or so men and women who comprise RAOP have not only survived as a group but have flourished.
Encouraged by people like Lorrie Rogers, their Community Rehab Support Worker who helps them organize activities and the generosity of others like Georgia Sumner who teaches a water colour painting class there every Wednesday, the group is positively thriving.
They have group swims at the Aquatic Centre, water colour classes, group chats, a social event, barbeques and out of town outings to provincial parks in the area, movie days, birthday parties — heck! — they’ve even been publishing their own little newsletter for the last two years. But it hasn’t always been easy.
“I’ve seen RAOP undergo some growing pains,” said one member named Linda Streeter. “Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to people with mental health issues. (But) we have become a club house. It’s a safe place where people can drop in to talk and have coffee.”
Peter Waters described RAOP as “a thought that became a seed” and eventually, with the help of volunteers like Brian Sumner, Steven Hui and others, at last became a reality in a tiny little shack in the alley beside Regent. They scrubbed, cleaned, painted, spackled, plumbed and rewired the tiny structure until it was something people could use and actually be proud of.
The RAOP members themselves have breathed life into it, making it a space all their own. They deserve it. They’ve worked hard to gain a measure of acceptance by the rest of society and they’ve done it with grace and dignity.
Happy Fourth Anniversary, RAOP! May you have many more.