Stepping Stone celebrates 30 years of service

Quality of life has greatly improved for people in Langley living with mental illness

On Oct. 2 Stepping Stone celebrates 30 years of providing services to people with mental illness in Langley.

Stepping Stone had small beginnings. It opened in 1984, primarily for adults living with a mental illness, who worked at a recycling depot.

Many of the clients at that time lived in two large homes in Langley and the people who lived independently were living in poverty.

“Their quality of life was very impoverished and maybe worst of all was the absolute loneliness of the men and women who attended the sheltered workshop (the recycling depot),” said Janet Burden, executive director of Stepping Stone.

“The work was dirty, there was no challenge, the rewards were little and there was nowhere to move on to.

“However, even in those bleak surroundings we provided a place for people to meet, to have coffee and to visit with other people dealing with similar issues.”

In September 1987, Stepping Stone’s executive director attended a conference confirming that there was a better way of providing services for people with mental illness — namely a clubhouse model where people were welcome every day to take part in programs, lunches and other services.

But the question was how to make it happen.

Provincial Mental Health Services provided some funding for the model but Stepping Stone had to fundraise. And fundraise, it did.

On Oct. 1, 1988 the recycling depot closed and Stepping Stone moved into a new location, with a one year lease from the City of Langley. The house was attractive, the environment warm and more and more members began to attend.

In 1990, they created a sister society West Fraser Housing and opened Arbour Creek estates. This provided affordable, dignified and supported housing in the community for families as well as individuals living with a mental illness.

Between 1992 and 1994, almost $1 million was raised during a capital fundraising campaign- “A House of Hope in a Community That Cares”.

The result was the Stepping Stone Clubhouse — a 6,000 sq. ft. facility designed to provide psychosocial rehab  programs.

In 2006, services expanded to include a homeless outreach program which provides services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

They also expanded housing options. Currently, Stepping Stone serves more than 1,000 people in all of its programs.

“There have been many changes in peoples’ attitudes towards people living with mental illness and also changes in the way we view our services,” said Burden.

“Thirty years ago we didn’t talk about recovery, now we do. We believe that people can achieve their potential and lead full productive lives.”

Members have called the clubhouse their ‘lifeline.’

“It is important to get out of the house. It is a place to talk to others, help solve problems and get steered in the right direction. It is an important part of my life,” said Walter, who attends Stepping Stone.

“It means friendship. It is my salvation,” Ina-Jean said of her experience.

Jane has been coming to Stepping Stone since 1988.

“Stepping Stone is a place to go and to socialize. This how I found low-income housing,” she said.

The open house is from 3 to 6 p.m. at Stepping Stone, 20101 Michaud Cres. on Thursday, Oct. 2 .

Members will showcase their talents with a display of art work, crafts and music.