"Wings of Care" - (Kanfei Chesed) Inc, established in March 2000, is a voluntary not-for-profit organization managed by a board of enthusiastic members of the Jewish community in Melbourne, dedicated to helping the plight of people with a mental illness and their families. We aim for the highest level of professionalism in our care and endeavour to practice the greatest form of Chesed (Kindness) in our attitude towards the needs of our clients. The backgrounds of those in our administration range from rabbis, psychiatrists, counsellors, psychologists, and social workers to consumers.
Our 'friendly visiting' is performed by two sectors of the community - rabbis, and our professionally trained volunteers. Our volunteers undergo a six-week, once a week, two hours a night, training program by mental health professionals. Visits are made to people in psychiatric wards of hospitals and clinics when it is requested or agreed upon. We put fliers on hospital notice boards and clinics asking Jewish clients who want to be visited to contact us. We also have fliers in synagogues for 'word of mouth' referrals. Confidentiality is maintained at all times between volunteers and their clients. Clients do not stay in hospital long these days, so visiting them adequately involves 'home' visits as well. We find this useful in assisting rehabilitation. Our volunteers are trained for most situations that may arise. If any difficulty presents itself, a volunteer may contact one of our readily accessible professional support people.
A person who has become mentally ill may be fearful and feel isolated and in need of the extra care and attention which a friendly visitor can give. Our visitors are now providing a slightly different service due to an increasing need by consumers - to help people cope and be more motivated to cook, shop and do more organizational jobs for themselves. Some of our volunteers now spend time visiting clients on a weekly basis to provide this service.
Families of people with mental health problems and sometimes their friends need support also. It was with this in mind that we started to operate a help-line for consumers, family members and/or friends. It operates from 9:00am - 5:00pm Monday to Thursday, 9:00am - 3:00pm Fridays, and Sundays from 2pm - 5:00 pm. For urgent after-hour assistance, including during public holidays we are still contactable. Through the helpline we offer referrals, valuable resource information, professional help where needed, and/or simply someone to listen to callers' concerns.
A professionally run Carer Support Group for family members of people with a mental illness is available on request.
Educational awareness activities have previously taken place by Wings of Care in different ways for different groups within the organization. Professional development is available on request for volunteers. Outreach education has been made available to the public.
A mutual support group was formed quite early in Wings of Care's development. It was available to clients facilitated by an occupational therapist and operating on a "buddy" system. At one of our Mutual Support sessions in those early days, it was proposed that we start a consumer website. With help from a volunteer from Vicnet this was put together and operates very successfully making contact with Jewish consumers locally and overseas via Facebook. Our clients provide all the creative work in it and also information about mental illnesses and medication. One of our projects was to hold an art and creative writing exhibition on the website, for the month of Cheshvan (November) - Jewish Social Action Month This latter was the brainchild of Rabbi Melchior who is Chief Rabbi of Belgium and a member of the Knesset with an involvement with Diaspora Jews.
An Educational and Recreational Activities program (ERA) was formed to support rehabilitation needs for clients and includes such topics as Jewish studies and creative writing as the core activities. We have and will continue to offer a wide range of programs such as: yoga, Karate Moves sessions called "the Joy of Wellbeing"; craft, including greeting card making, photography, mental health and nutrition, musical appreciation, time management, anger management, emotional eating, budgeting, a de-clutter program, and getting back into the workplace. A Doctor's referral is required by clients to attend the ERA program. An animal assistance therapy (AAT) program is being developed. A dog is being trained to support our visiting program and client group.
Wings of Care joined with 8 other mental health organizations in the Jewish community in 2002 to form the Jewish Mental Health Network (Vic) for the ultimate benefit of the community. It is invaluable to have like organisations with which to liaise.
We have a drop-in arrangement functioning every Sunday from 2:00pm - 5:00pm on a variety of the social and other topics listed above from our extended ERA rehabilitation program - sometimes we may simply go for a walk!
We provide conference calls every Wednesday afternoon between 2:00pm and 3:00pm. This helps to bring clients into social contact with each other without them having to make the effort to leave their homes. This is also a popular activity with those clients suffering from Agoraphobia who have become socially isolated. It is enjoyed and found to be useful by those who participate.
One of our goals is to inform mainstream mental health professionals on how to look after Jewish patients by providing a manual (please email us your interest if you would like a copy when it is available) and regular public seminars upon request.
We are involved in a Jewish school children's' project called Challenge Day. It is American based and we are attached to its international branch in due course. The starting point requires us to form a group consisting of children around years 10 and 11, parents, teachers, community youth leaders, and other interested parties. The idea is to change children's' attitudes towards each other, creating an environment of tolerance and respect, help combat bullying, encourage social integration and eventually help develop and foster leadership qualities. The Duke of Edinburgh Awards is being linked to our project. School students who participate in our project can be eligible for an award.
The Wings of Care website is linked to the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) website shortly. 'Wings of Care' is an affiliate of the JCCV. Forums have been held in the area of Social Justice and Psychological Disorders. In the area of Social Justice and Mental Illness we provide institutional support in the form of referrals to legal aid, financial counselling, telephone financial advice and forensic care for rehabilitation. Dr Barie Forbes has written a Mental Health and Poverty discussion paper. One suggestion that was made in Dr Barie Forbes' paper was that a Community Chest be established to help clients who have been struggling to pay essential medical and domestic expenses including food. This is now operational. It also provides help for one-off bills for clients.
A mental health policy, supported by WOC, has been formulated at this time in conjunction with the JCCV.
We are running a community support program that involves going to the Synagogues in our Melbourne Jewish community and suggesting ways that they can provide more social/financial help to people who need it. Training is being organized through WOC and consultation takes place with Synagogue project co-coordinators. The mental health perspective of this program is more proactive as it may prevent people living in poverty from developing mental illness. It may also find people who have mental illness but have not been treated.
We have offered workshops with a Counsellor to examine the attitudes of family members i.e. children and spouses, towards clients who have a mental illness. Some clients were experiencing verbal and physical abuse from their children &/or spouses. This was most distressing for all involved. By dealing with this issue through work-shopping and individual counselling we felt that clients became more capable of managing their illness. By tackling the issues with children and spouses we feel that we were helping to stop mental illness being experienced in future generations in these cases. In each case clients had previously had very bad self-images about their conditions. This became validated by how they were allowing themselves to be treated by spouses &/or children. We hope to address other concerning issues in the future.
For further information about Wings of Care; the Jewish Mental Health Network (Vic); Social Justice for Jewish people with mental illness; Social Justice for Jewish people with psychological disorders; and the Community Chest, here are the contact details:
Lorraine GRUMD Levy President Wings of Care (Kanfei Chesed) Inc Hon Sec JMH Network
Coordinator of the Community Chest
Professional referrals are welcome