Step Up on Second Writers' Anthology
A Model of Volunteerism
By Phil Glosserman
Recently, President Obama announced United We Serve, a nationwide call to service, challenging all Americans to volunteer in their communities. We salute those who selflessly contribute their time, abilities, and money to help others. Behind the scenes, many of those who are beneficiaries of community services, are active volunteers.
Every week, I facilitate a writing class at Step Up on Second, a Santa-Monica-based organization that provides housing, meals, and an array of support services to individuals who have a mental illness. I have been impressed and inspired to find that, despite their own considerable personal challenges, most of our writers are active volunteers in the community. Marsha volunteers at the gift shop of a local hospital, Larry runs a bingo group at a seniors living facility, Alan writes and directs plays on skid row, Les teaches computer skills to people with mental illness, Craig feeds people who are homeless. And the list goes on.
One of our writers, Jacob Ramsey, is a model of volunteerism. For the past twelve years, Jacob has been a leader, a teacher, and source of inspiration for hundreds of people who have come through the doors of Step Up on Second.
Jacob is a member and resident of Step Up on Second. Since experiencing a mental breakdown in 1995, Jacob has been living with severe bipolar disorder. He also has muscular dystrophy, which significantly limits his mobility.
“I may be disabled, but that doesn’t mean I’m un-abled,” says Jacob. Every week, Jacob volunteers to teach eight classes to support Step Up members in their life skills and recovery. He also serves on Step Up on Second’s Board of Directors.
Jacob lives and breathes service to others. He constantly encourages and praises his fellow members for their progress, accomplishments, and most of all, for who they are.
“It’s amazing how a small compliment or a little encouragement can help build someone’s self-esteem,” says Jacob. “Many of the people at Step Up on Second have been homeless or down and out for years. They’re accustomed to being stigmatized and shunned. Many of them haven’t heard a kind word for years. All people need encouragement and recognition. These are basic human needs. A little encouragement and praise can change someone’s life.”
In 2001, Jacob began volunteering to facilitate a weekly self-help support group called Words of Encouragement. As a textbook, he used the popular bestseller Chicken Soup for the Soul. Every week, the group would read an inspiring story from the book. Then Jacob would go around the table ask people what they took from the story. “I would just let them talk and I’d say whatever I could to help support them and get them to support each other.”
The class became popular with members of Step Up on Second, so Jacob began adding other classes, including Positive Thinking, How to Tell Your Story, Schizophrenics Anonymous, Community Unity, Dealing with Our Hurts, and a Poetry/Karaoke Workshop.
“When you’re lucky enough to meet Jacob, as I did on my first day at Step Up, it can transform how you feel about yourself,” says Daniel Concharty. “My relationship with Jacob has changed my life. The first time I attended one of Jacob’s classes, he changed my view of my life in one hour. I had been down for a long time and needed a lot of help. Jacob made me feel welcome and treated me with dignity. I can’t say enough positive things about this great man.”
Another Step Up member, Pauline Chambers, says, “Jacob has made me more insightful about life and how to live with a mental illness.” Pauline lives with a dual diagnosis: mental illness and addiction. “Jacob helped give me the courage to achieve my goals, one of which was to help others who have a dual diagnosis like me. He inspired me to start a class. Now I teach a weekly class at Step Up. It’s called AA Awakenings. I feel I’m making a real difference in people’s lives. It’s helping me too.”
Every year Jacob, who is African American, pays tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday by reciting the “I Have a Dream” speech in Step Up on Second’s main hall. Jacob is also an ordained Baptist minister and often performs spiritual duties at Step Up on Second, including counseling members and conducting memorial services for those who have passed on.
Asked why he is so dedicated to serving his community at Step Up on Second, Jacob responded, “I came to Step Up on Second in 1997 after a mental breakdown. I was at a low point in my life, crying hour after hour every day. Step Up on Second met me where I was at. They provided me with shelter and sustenance. They helped me deal with my mental illness, reintegrate into the community, and start living again. Now, I continue that tradition by giving back to others who face some of the same problems as me. It’s my life’s mission.
“In addition, serving others makes me feel good. Because of my bipolar disorder, I have unwanted feelings at times. Being of service helps chase away these feelings. Instead of focusing on myself and my problems, I focus on helping others. It is a ‘we moment,’ not a ‘me moment.’ I’ve tried a lot of other things to feel better about my situation, but serving others is the thing that helps me the most. I encourage everyone to reach out and volunteer. Not only will you make a positive difference for others, it will change your own life for the better. I guarantee it!”