A New Peer Support Program at Sara Riel

April 28 2022

Sara Riel has launched a new peer support program aimed at creating meaningful connections for those living with mental health or addictions issues. The 1-2-1 Peer Outreach Program is available to anyone hoping to find some extra support but is especially important for those who are lacking a diagnosis or might be otherwise falling through the cracks.

“Our funding structure means that we typically only work with clients who have a diagnosis of some kind,” says David Stewart, one of the managers of Mental Health and Addiction Services at Sara Riel. “Even within our services, there are gaps, as many of our clients get an hour a week of supports, and that’s often not enough. Between those we can’t work with due to lack of resources or lack of diagnosis, and those we do work with but who need more support, there were still a lot of people who were underserviced, and we wanted to find more options for them.”

David Stewart

The Sara Riel team was inspired to create the 1-2-1 program after seeing the power of peer support in other areas. “Our Seneca Warm Line has taken over 30,000 calls in two years,” Stewart continues. “It’s a service where you can call and talk to someone who has some lived experience. You don’t have to be a client of ours to participate. Callers and peers make such a powerful connection; we see it every day.”

Funded through the COVID Equity Plan at United Way Winnipeg, the 1-2-1 Peer Outreach Program aims to support those who might get a visit from a social worker or from home care occasionally but are at a loss of where else to find connection to help them going through challenging times.

The program works by connecting volunteers with those seeking supports. When someone calls the Seneca Warm Line, they are now offered the opportunity to participate in the new program. Those who are interested are added to a list and volunteers begin their days by calling those who have signaled their interest. “They make plans to meet up in a public space, often outside or perhaps at a coffee shop,” says Stewart. “Then it’s all about curiosity and openness. Our volunteers are trained to ask questions, to listen and to share their story if it’s helpful.”

Volunteers all have lived experience, something Stewart says is an essential part of the program. “For many people we support, it’s not that they don’t have someone to talk to, it’s that they want to have someone they can talk to openly,” he shares. “They want to talk to someone who’s been in their shoes and have lived through the same kinds of struggles.”

The program launched in early April, 2022, and six people registered within the first few weeks. The first person to receive a visit has confirmed that they’d appreciate a meet up once a week, which has encouraged staff and volunteers alike.

“We really believe that everyone in Manitoba who is struggling with mental health and isolation should have the opportunity to have someone in their life who isn’t a paid worker,” concludes Stewart. “We all deserve to have someone in our lives who is there to listen, not to give advice or tell us what to do. This program is a start.”


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