by Penny Soderena-Sutton (Prince George)
I work as a Self Advocate Peer Liaison for AiMHi in Prince George. My job is to help make people’s lives better by talking and sharing and being there for them. I listen and talk about whatever is on people’s minds. I organize workshops about rights or other things people tell me they want to learn about. I also provide support for the Prince George Self Advocacy Caucus.
Right now, because of COVID, people have more time and we are talking about stuff that people don’t always get to. I have organized a schedule of Penny’s Talks, with regular times to talk to people and find out how they are doing and to help them feel connected to someone who is listening and who cares.
Even if someone says they are okay, I can tell if they aren’t doing so well just by the sound of their voice. I let people know that other people feel like that too. We talk about all kinds of things, like what kind of hobbies, music or books people like, or about their pets. We might read or dance together over the phone or tell each other what we love about our cat. I tell them that I’m there and that I care and I encourage them to do the kinds of things that help me, like go for a walk, or make a nice cup of tea. Some people have lost their jobs, so I tell them it won’t be forever and we talk about when they can work again, or about the job they would like to have in the future.
I also tell people to let me know if I’m invading their space or if they don’t want to talk right now. That’s okay too. Of course, all of this would be better in person, but for now we can meet over the phone or on Zoom if people want.
Penny’s Talks is not just for the people supported by AiMHi. It’s for anyone, especially if they live on their own and feel isolated. Anyone can sign up for Penny’s Talks on the AiMHi.ca website. When someone signs up I ask them what would work best, what they’d like to learn about or talk about, and if they have any questions I can help them find the answers to. We can do it one-on-one or meet virtually as a group. Many people aren’t sure about using technology like Zoom or they don’t have internet, so mostly we talk over the phone. Whatever works best. Before the restrictions, I was able to meet people at a coffee shop. It will be nice when we can do that again.
Penny’s Talks is really about whatever the person needs. I try to have fun and be silly, but sometimes we break down and cry together because feeling lonely is serious and scary too. Our emotions need a way to come out. People need to feel like someone is there and cares and wants to see the smile on their face.