Long-term volunteer, Rita, gives back to support people living with mental illness

Rita’s strength has helped her overcome depression and become an important volunteer at Avivo. She’s a long-time participant of Avivo’s Community Support Program (CSP), a program that offers wellness and recovery-focused services for people living with serious or persistent mental illness. Rita is also a critical, long-term volunteer who facilitates a mental health support group for her fellow members.

Rita (center) with Avivo Community Support Program Manager Stephanie (left) and Program Director David (right)

“I can tell the people who are really making progress,” she says. “I’m kind of the NAMI ambassador. When new people come [to the Avivo CSP] I introduce myself and invite them to come back.”

Prior to joining Avivo’s CSP, Rita’s life took a number of negative twists and turns. She was diagnosed with serious depression and other mental health diagnoses, which she still lives with today.

Rita refused to let those diagnoses stop her from making a positive impact on her community. “I don’t think of myself as disabled,” she says. “I think of myself as able.”

“I don’t think of myself as disabled … I think of myself as able.”

Rita joined Avivo’s CSP to find community and to stabilize her depression, and feels the program allowed her to be herself and to be accepted. She wanted to give back, and decided to look into group facilitator training from NAMI Minnesota. Her goal after training was to lead a support group at Avivo, and she credits Avivo’s leadership for helping her start the group and make it a success.

“I want people to know that even if you have a mental illness, you can still do things… despite the stigma,” shares Rita.

“I want people to know that even if you have a mental illness, you can still do things… despite the stigma.”

Over the years, Rita has shared countless lessons with support group attendees, and also used them herself. She pushes herself outside her comfort zone each year to attend Mental Health Day on the Hill, an annual mental health advocacy day at the Minnesota State Capitol.

“I’ve gone to the Capitol the last nine or ten years,” shares Rita. “It’s really great how far mental health has come, but it still has a ways to go.”

It’s been ten years since Rita first volunteered to start the CSP’s mental health support group, and through her efforts, Rita’s support group has made a positive impact on dozens of people’s lives.