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Compeer seeks friends in mental-illness stigma battle


Everybody needs a friend – someone to talk to, to lean on, to simply have fun with.

And for people living with lifelong mental illness, having someone to connect with is even more important. But their disorders can complicate forming those bonds, through no fault of their own.

The non-profit group Compeer runs programs that pair adults with friends and young people with mentors. It relies on volunteers for the programs, and right now it's launching a campaign to recruit more of them. Stigma around mental illness can make it hard to find enough volunteers, says Heather Baker, events and outreach manager for Compeer Rochester, a nonprofit devoted to supporting people with mental illness – everything from ADHD to depression to personality disorders.

"There's been so much stigma toward mental illness that there haven't been people to help them or just to be their friends," Baker says.

In particular, the organization needs male volunteers to pair with boys and young men who are on its waiting list. Many of those youths may not have a steady male influence in their lives, Baker says.

Volunteers are expected to regularly spend time with their matches, and there are all kinds of ways they can do that. Baker, for instance, has taken the girl she mentors along as she ran errands, which the girl really enjoyed, she says. They also hung out while Baker prepared her a Thanksgiving meal. And visiting museums, going to ball games, or even just talking are good activities, she says.

"Truly, they just go have fun with them," Baker says.

Anyone interested in volunteering as a friend or mentor can find information at or can call (585) 546-8280. Volunteers have to be at least 19 years old, and they receive training.