Time to talk about mental health: GreenTree offers all types of peer support

Published 10:34 am Thursday, July 21, 2022

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By Glenda Smith

For the Enterprise

GreenTree Peer Center is one of nine organizations included in the brochure, Piedmont Triad Mental Wellness Peer Support Groups.

Founded in 2012 by Laurie Coker, GreenTree is a local non-profit peer-operated, self-help, mutual support  community wellness center, and a gathering place for people whose lives have been impacted by trauma, mental health, and/or substance use challenges. Located at 930 S. Broad St., Winston-Salem, individuals from outside Forsyth are welcome to participate in all that GreenTree has to offer.

In Laurie Coker’s words, when her son Peter was about 15, he said: “I wish there were a place where people like me – people whose minds work differently – could just talk and be people together.”  Peter’s words resulted in awareness and motivation for Laurie. She came to the realization that people who experience mental health extremes could benefit by having more normalizing spaces that would provide opportunities for social connection. Focus is also given to self-help, wellness, resilience, and growth.

Laurie’s follow-up searches led to her discovering that many states had peer operated social spaces that offered peer support, self-help classes, and a welcoming safe space for people to connect. Having been a psychiatric nurse, Laurie had seen first-hand how emotionally unsafe traditional treatment venues can be for people in need of help, even if they might benefit  by inpatient treatment.

Some of the educational and recreational activities held at GreenTree and/or virtually have included: meditation, yoga, music, WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), recovery support groups, self-help/care, peer advocacy, resilience, positivity, wellness management, photography, managing personal finances, women’s mental health, exercise, and physical health.

In 2011, Laurie reached out to people she had known who had a psychiatric diagnosis; and they began meeting for coffee regularly to discuss finding a location for a peer social setting. By 2012, she found a vacant coffee shop-front building that had “GreenTree Community Center” written on its sides. Laurie contacted the church that owned the building. They were eager to share the space and to provide a safe, non-judgmental, and non-sectarian social setting. Initially, GreenTree opened its doors twice a week, then three, and eventually five days a week.

During this time of increased need related to world events, economic troubles, impacts of COVID, and increased distress for young people, GreenTree has been working full time plus to respond to urgent community needs, providing Self-Help & Wellness Education Leading to Recovery and Resiliency.

GreenTree Peer Support provides a safe space where people can exhale and re-group in a small, welcoming community setting. They offer wellness-promoting group activity, creative arts, and peer-to-peer support for individuals needing more intensive assistance that empowers them toward resiliency and recovery.  Staffed by peer supporters, their lived experiences enable them to engage and support people effectively toward solutions and progress.

GreenTree’s peer supporters are able to quickly respond and support people who need assistance beyond the walls of the center. Transportation issues and just feeling overwhelmed by the systems that offer help can be barriers that peer support empowers people to overcome.

GreenTree partners with local agencies to help ensure that folks are benefitting by the resources. They act as access facilitators, helping people to take steps they often will not do on their own.  Peer Support is unique in this role of facilitating access, and many folks do not seek the help they are needing without this support and advocacy.  GreenTree serves as a peer community hub that has become a springboard for connecting folks with other resources they need (health care, medication refills, mental health and substance use agency appointments, etc.).

GreenTree offers crisis support at its Refuge House to those referred by hospital emergency clinicians and  public safety officers. Assistance in engaging other important resources and ongoing support are offered. For instance, several who have been supported have also been assisted to receive detox and/or substance use treatment.

For routine offerings, special events, and more check out GreenTree’s website, www.greentreepeersupport.org, or go to Facebook, @greentreepeercenterws. Director, Laurie Coker, can be reached at lcokernc@gmail.com or 336-577-3743.

GreenTree is looking to add more qualified peer staff.

Glenda Smith – a mental health wellness

advocate – lives near Mocksville.