Through community connection and education, we can change perceptions of mental illness.
Our teams generally visit homes for 1-2 hours every two weeks. There is always food, often some form of communal discussion, and sometimes singing or prayer. All of our teams share the commitment to recognize the sacredness of each person.
The visit is profound, but casual. During the visit people will come and go; the visits can be chaotic and bustling or peaceful and contemplative. We share laughter, joy, kind affirmations, confessions of sadness, and deeply philosophical and theological exchanges—and decades-long friendships emerge.
Visits to boarding homes are arranged with homeowners, often through suggestions from community workers. As guests in private homes, our teams could be asked to leave at any time—a crucial factor in the trust we build.
Volunteers are primarily people of faith, including teams from the Presbyterian and United Churches as well as newer members of other faith communities. Teams consist of 2-5 people, and new members are asked to begin with a year-long commitment. Many residents have experienced abandonment, so we emphasize consistency in attendance. Volunteers must also stay up-to-date on safety and boundaries training which we offer regularly.
If you are interested in joining an existing team or forming one of your own, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Being invited into private boarding homes gives BHM a unique perspective on mental health in Canada, and we are committed to engaging in the larger discourse on mental health care and spirituality through regular workshops, community consultation, research projects, student placements and education curricula.
BHM offers placements for students of Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto, where they gain frontline experience in inner city and mental health pastoral care. Responsibilities and activities include regularly visiting boarding homes, visiting residents in hospital, participating in memorial services, and writing reflections on their experiences. Past students have described the placement as invaluable to their career, as there are few alternative placements that focus on mental health care in such depth and in the unique setting of boarding homes.
Regularly, BHM organizes workshops for volunteers focusing on aspects of the ministry, such as the importance of loving affirmation or tools for being comfortable in praying on the spot. Workshops usually last approximately two hours and include a chance to connect over a shared meal. The gathering also serves as an important opportunity to share experiences with BHM, to discuss how other teams organize their time in the homes, and to feel the encouragement of being around like-minded people.
Our culture’s social rejection of people who experience mental illness, poverty, and addictions indicates a need to re-evaluate what is considered valuable in a life.
Through advocacy, we pose some of the deepest questions that arise from our ministry in the homes to the wider community. We challenge the neglect and rejection of our friends in the homes by witnessing to their goodness.
BHM focuses on the issues of isolation, stigma, and inclusion. Through partnerships with other community organizations, we collaborate on other societal issues that impact our residents such as poverty and affordable housing.
The main form our advocacy takes is education. Through our workshop and retreat series on Mental Health Inclusion, we are reaching a broad network of faith communities who have committed to finding more effective ways of reaching people with mental illness and addictions in their midst. We teach practical skills and spiritual practices that can help people to be more empathic and inclusive in their day-to-day lives.
BHM also maintains its commitment to quality education through the training of future chaplains, psychotherapists and ministers from the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto.