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Part 3: Received With Open Arms

It’s hard to wrap your head around what’s going on in another person’s mind, let alone if that person has mental illness. But this month, Mental Health Awareness Month—and every day at Big Sister League of San Diego—we try. To shed light on these efforts, we’re sharing one residents’ journey in four candid perspectives, now from one of our longest standing board members.

They say when one door closes another one opens, but at Big Sister League of San Diego the adage isn’t that simple. So, we tweak it a tidge.


“We’re all here for a reason: We have mental health diagnoses that don’t allow us to live and function in the world outside,” Deb explains. “There’s been countless times, especially in the morning, right when I open my eyes, that I go into the office and say I need a pep talk. The door is always open until it’s closed, and the reason it’s closed is because someone is pouring their heart out or getting encouragement.”


But when that door closes, there’s always a fellow resident, staff member, or even a BSL board member standing with arms wide open.


“A week ago, I was at the house and Deb said she was having a bad day. She asked for a hug. I said, ‘Of course!’ A few days later, she said, ‘I’m better,’” recounts Toni Lawrence, who’s held the stance for 25 years.


Now serving as treasurer on our executive board, she and fellow members are a fundraising arm to the nonprofit and a support system to staff, “and the staff are there to serve the residents, who we’re all ultimately working for.”


Each board member brings with them a particular expertise, from organizational management to fundraising and strategic communication, but most importantly they bring empathy.