Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

How DO you support a support group?

April 17 th — A diverse array of religious leaders, mental health professionals, and community volunteers came to the Interchurch Center to share their experiences with support groups for mental traumas and disorders.
Panelists from left: Joana Goff, Imam ahmad Alamine, Rev. Evan Bever, Jerry Foster, Jon Parker, Julie Sondhelm, Rev. Ben Wakefield, and Julie Williams

April 17 seven panelists shared their experiences supporting support groups. It was April’s Interfaith Coalition for Mental Health’s monthly luncheon, and it was good.

Moderator — Joana Goff

Joana Goff is the coordinator of NAMI’s Ending the Silence Program, a mental health education program for high school students. Ending the Silence is a 50-minute program designed for high school audiences and is typically presented in the freshman/sophomore health classes during the mental health portion of the curriculum.

Jon Parker

Jon Parker is coordinator for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

Linda Williams

As Program Director, Linda Williams is responsible for assisting the local affiliates in Indiana with NAMI signature programs. This is done through training the leaders of the programs, marketing on the websites and Facebook, providing the materials to them, etc. She joined the NAMI Indiana staff in 2010. She works closely with volunteer leaders around the state. She recruits, trains and motivates members to become active volunteers, leaders and advocates. Her lived experience has made her very passionate about the mission of NAMI which is to improve the quality of life for persons who are affected by mental illness by providing education, support, advocacy and research.

Benjamin Wakefield

Benjamin married his wife Jen and they have three children together: Maya, Hannah, and Jack. For almost ten years, he’s been the Senior Pastor at Lynhurst Baptist Church (LBC) on the west side of Indianapolis. Through the church, he has been privileged to serve on the boards of LBC Community Center and LBC Preschool. In addition, he has had the honor of serving as President of American Baptist Churches (ABCGI) for the past year and most recently was elected for the MSD Wayne Township School Board in November.

Julie Sondhelm

Julie is our community social worker, working primarily one-on-one with clients within the Jewish community providing case management, crisis intervention and connection to resources. Julie also works with several programs at JFS, such as Kavod (support to Holocaust survivors),
Popsie’s Food Pantry, Parent’s Night Out for families with children with special needs, and other projects. Julie is a native of Indianapolis, and received her undergraduate and graduate degree from the IU School of Social Work. Currently a licensed clinical social worker, Julie has worked in the Jewish community since 1999. Her previous work experience includes positions in child welfare and home-based counseling.

Jerry and Donna Foster

Donna and Jerry Foster are co-facilitators for the NAMI greater Indianapolis family support group meeting at 7:00 on third Tuesdays at Geist Christian Church in Fishers. Donna is a retired reference librarian at IMCPL after being an Associate Director of Research and Sponsored activities at Ball State University. Jerry is a retired professor (P.E.) of ECET at Purdue University after being an engineer at Western Electric. Donna’s son, Andre Bucove, an amateur astronomer and photographer of stars, planets, and galaxies, lived with schizophrenia until his death this past summer. Donna and Jerry have been involved in NAMI family support groups for about four years and took over the group formerly run by Toni Pichard.

Pastor Evan Bever

Rev. Evan Bever serves as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Indianapolis, an almost two hundred-year old American Baptist congregation located on the north side of Indianapolis. In recent years, the congregation of FBC Indianapolis has grown increasingly diverse, welcoming people who have come as refugees from southeast Asia and Africa. In addition to administrative duties, Evan has responsibilities in worship leadership, pastoral care, Christian education, and mission and outreach. Evan is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (M. Div, 2012) and studied English Literature at Purdue University (B.A. 2009). Evan and his wife, Breanna, live in Washington Township with their son, Isaiah.

Imam Ahmed Alamine

Imam Ahmed Alamine is the Imam of Masjid Al Fajr, a mosque next to Marian University. This mosque is one of the few in Indianapolis that currently houses a school (known as MTI). Imam Ahmed just got back from his trip to Saudi Arabia.

The crowd at the ICMH April luncheon learning how mental health support groups can change the lives of their family members and of their congregations

Moderator Joana Goff opened the questions to the panelists with the question: What support groups are you associated with?

  • Imam Alamine said Masjid al Fajr doesn’t have formal support groups. Instead, embers of his congregation come to him as a spiritual guide, and he tries to direct them toward services.
  • Rev. Bever said First Baptist Church has supported support groups for decades by providing meeting space. Today it offers space for 10 to 12 support groups.
  • Donna and Jerry Foster are co-facilitators for the NAMI greater Indianapolis family support group meeting at Geist Christian Church in Fishers. They got involved with NAMI because of their son, who lived with schizophrenia until his death last summer.
  • Jon Parker is involved with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). DBSA could be seen as a cousin to NAMI’s support. Whereas NAMI focuses on supporting families whose members suffer from mental illness, DBSA emphasizes peer-to-peer relations.
  • Julie Sondhelm is a professional social worker who works at Jewish Family Services. Until a few decades ago, JFS offered a full range of social service, but started to pare them back. Julie meets with most of her clients one-on-one.
  • Rev. Ben Wakefield emphasizes “Celebrate Recovery,” a 12-step Christ-centered program that addresses a wider range of issues than does AA or NA. The program typically begins with a shared dinner; a worship service; then a lesson draw, for instance, on one of the 12-step processes. Then the groups breaks up into smaller groups seperated by gender or by issue.
  • Linda Williams is representing Parents with Addicted Loved-one (PAL).
Rev. Bever, Jon Parker, Jerry Foster, Julie Sondhelm, Rev. Wakefield, Linda Williams

Joana’s next question: How do you support a support group as a faith leader, and how do you connect people with needs for services to the leaders of their faiths?

  • Imam Alamine reports that for Muslim there’s a stigma attached to mental illness, often seen as resulting from a lack of faith. He uses the platform of Friday services in Masjid al Fajr encourage to talk about their needs and connect to professional help. The mosque and status of Imam gives his message legitimacy.
  • Rev. Bever says First Baptist Church itself doesn’t run any support programs. But the Church learned long ago that its space is convenient and thus valuable to give to groups. He thinks that for his congregation to see people going in and out of support groups at the church, it humanizes the problems they experience.
  • Rev. Wakefield himself is a member of the “Celebrating Recovery” program (he suffers from co-dependency issues). Members of Celebrate Recovery are invited to speak to the church itself. Both those things helps build support for Celebrate Recovery even among people who themselves aren’t part of it.

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