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about 14 hours a month in person, in addition to phone calls and
"This was my first Compeer match and we both gained from
our friendship. It was so refreshing to hold a conversation, though
sometimes of differing views, but we respected each other, and it
was a real friendship. I still miss her," said Baker, who is now in
another matched friendship.
Chuck Girard has actively served on the Compeer Chester
County Advisory Board since 2006. Almost four years ago, he
began supporting Richard Durso via phone calls. Durso was going
through a tough time, but it wasn't long before the two realized
they had a lot in common and began regularly meeting in person.
Approximately a year later the tables turned when Durso became a
support to Girard who was then recovering from kidney transplant surgery. The friends were recognized as "Match of the Year"
at the 2016 Compeer Friendship Luncheon because their mutual
support is what makes a true friendship.
"Fear and isolation are often byproducts of mental health
challenges. Sharing conversation and activities with a supportive
friend helps a person to gain self-confidence and self-esteem, and it
fosters personal growth," said Girard. "A caring friend helps restore
some joy and hope in a person's life.
Said Durso of the friendship, "I really know Chuck now. He's
become a real friend and I enjoy spending time with him."
Compeer Chester County is an affiliate of the national nonprofit, Compeer, Inc., based in New York. It provides comprehensive training, helps initiate the friendship connection and continues to support the friends along the way. The local program fosters
the relationships with meetups and events.
"Compeer provides a connection to the community through
both the one-to-one friendship and by providing group activities
that can extend the relationship to a network of others," Altemus
said. "We hold a Friendship Luncheon, bowling party and picnic
annually but we're looking to increase our group activities. Starting
this spring, we're looking to start a Compeer walking club. These
meetup-style walks will be open to both Compeer participants and
anyone interested from the community. I think that getting people
together in the same place will allow those relationships to form.
Walking together, people will talk and they'll learn about things
in common just as Chuck and Rich did when they began having
phone calls. I think there will be some matches that form on their
own by us doing this."
Right now, Compeer Chester County has 46 active friendship
matches, with 12 more friendships connected through regular
phone calls and seven matches through email, called e-buddies.
In addition, the local chapter is working on a Vet2Vet program,
Compeer CORPS, to bring matched peer to peer friendships to
veterans. The program has 1 active match and Altemus is working
to build a relationship with providers from the VA Medical Center
in Coatesville to build this support for our veterans. "Veterans have
unique needs. Many are fighting mental and behavioral health
concerns, have physical disabilities and at high risk for suicide,"
Each year Compeer Chester County Surveys the
individuals in matched friendships. Here are the
latest survey results:
* My Compeer friend has had a positive impact on my life
- 75% strongly agree
* I trust my Compeer friend - 83.33% Strongly agree
* My Compeer friend listens to me - 91.67% Strongly agree
* I feel lonely less often - 81.82% agree
* I feel good about myself more often - 70% agree
* I have the support I need - 90.91% agree
* I keep appointments with my doctor more often - 72.73% agree
* I am more optimistic about the future - 63.64% agree
Altemus said. "We hope to create a network of military vets to
provide friendship, as well as mentoring and help with integration
to civilian life."
Although the local chapter has engaged new volunteers, the
need continues to grow as well. Altemus is committed to growing
the program. He has developed a 30- to 45-minute presentation
on the power of friendship, and provided it to other groups in the
area. The outreach has been effective.
"The message resonates with people. We've all experienced feelings of loneliness, and intuitively we know that having supportive
friends and family is a good thing," Altemus said. "I'm pleased
with the responses I've had so far."
But Altemus admits his long-term goal is lofty. "I want to make
sure every Chester County resident knows about Compeer."
Compeer Chester County is a program of Mental Health
Partnerships, an organization founded on the basic principle that
people with mental health conditions can and do recover because
they have the resilience to direct their own journeys in overcoming
significant adversity. And while recovery, in all its different forms
and paths, is possible for all, there's a greater chance of recovery in
the context of an informed, caring community with family, friends
and peers involved.
To find out more about Compeer
Chester County, visit the website,
To request a presentation on
the Power of Friendship, contact
Don Altemus at 610-436-4445 or
SPRING 2018 | CHESTER COUNT Y Medicine 29