Emmaus offers peace of mind to those facing mental health
Br Alan and long-term resident at the Emmaus Community, Michael Smith, stand beside the grotto to the Virgin Mary in one of the many gardens at the Emmaus Community, Queens Park. PHOTO: Marco Ceccarelli
By Marco Ceccarelli
As part of the 2015 LifeLink Winter Appeal, the eRecord is this month taking a closer look at the work undertaken by organisations such Identitywa, Centrecare, Catholic Ministry for People who are Deaf or Hearing Impaired, Daydawn, Emmaus Community, Emmanuel Centre, Centacare Employment & Training, Djooraminda, The Shopfront and Catholic Outreach.
LifeLink is the overarching organisation that provides ongoing funding support for agencies that deliver professional services and caring support to thousands of people in need throughout Western Australia each year.
This week, eRecord journalist Marco Ceccarelli spoke with the founder of the Emmaus Community, Brother Alan Archer and long-term resident at Emmaus, Michael Smith, about the purpose and benefits of an independent community for adults living with mental health issues.
In the early months of 1996, as he provided emergency and short-term accommodation for people with mental health issues, Brother Alan Archer came to the realisation that eight weeks was not a sufficient time frame of recovery for the patients he looked after.
Many of the individuals he saw released from care in the Crisis Care Unit near Bentley where he worked kept on returning – the struggles of loneliness and isolation being too much to bear.
It was only after many hours spent in prayer that he decided to devote his life to the creation of a place where people suffering from mental illness could live, be surrounded by a community, and gradually improve at their own pace.
The idea of the Emmaus Community was thus born. Br “Al”, as he likes to be called, purchased a home in the suburb of Queens Park with the intention of creating a community of people suffering from mental health who could live independently, with support and assistance, whilst sharing the same journey.
The home initially accommodated seven people.
With the support from now Archbishop Emeritus of Perth, Barry James Hickey, the community grew significantly over time to accommodate approximately 40 members who now reside in one of eight residential properties in Queens Park.
“Emmaus is a place where people can feel accepted and loved, and grow at their own speed. God has made each person differently, each has a different journey and the message of Jesus is about being inclusive. That is basically why Emmaus was started, so that people can feel included, accepted and loved,” Br Al said.
“Part of what governments do to deal with mental health is to create a structure and make people fit in it. Here, at Emmaus, we do things from a spiritual point of view. Whether it takes someone a week or 10 years, that is irrelevant. I have found that loving is the only way, for us that’s the way we survive, without just being a structure,” he added.
Br Alan is a consecrated brother, who has taken vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and hospitality and is directly at the service of the Catholic Archbishop of Perth. He takes a Franciscan approach to his spirituality and is completely dedicated to steering Emmaus through the good and bad times.
“It would be remiss of me to say that everything has been pleasant at Emmaus. There have been some low points, such as the tragic loss of someone who was with us for ten years; it was a sad moment that brought us together in mourning.
“Yet there have also been many high points, such as seeing someone who has come to us illiterate develop reading skills and joining TAFE, or someone who has suffered abuse receive a hug. These are the small things that keep myself, and Patricia, my co-worker, going,” Br Al said.
One of the members of the Emmaus Community who has greatly benefited from its services is 44-year-old Michael Smith. Mr Smith has struggled with mental health problems since his youth and has been at Emmaus for approximately 11 years.
“When I first came to Emmaus, I couldn’t even be in a room by myself. I was frightened. I don’t know why, but I had a fear, anxiety attacks, sometimes ten times a day.
“I slowly had to grow in my own way, I could grow at my own pace, without people saying Michael do this, do that. Now I really feel that I have come far, I got a literacy course at TAFE, I learned to read in two years, and I like having people around me. I feel safe at Emmaus.
“I also go to the chapel, I read the psalms, and I pray for people out there that are still struggling,” Mr Smith said.
His final comment, uttered in the presence of Br Al and other colleagues, caused a response in the room and received the approval of many: “Without God, we wouldn’t have this place.”
In his visit to the Emmaus Community late last year, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe said he was struck by the genuine warmth and simplicity in the welcome he received, and also by the depth and sincerity of the faith alive in all those who gathered in the chapel for the celebration of the Mass.
“It was evident to me,” the Archbishop went on to say, “that the dignity of each person is honoured within the community and a firm yet simple consideration is given to the needs of each other.”
Emmaus also counts up to 150 non-residential members and their families as an integral part of the community. These individuals are invited to share with each other the highs and lows of living daily with mental health issues.
For more information on the Emmaus Community, visit www.emmauscommunity.com.au.
Your support for the 2015 LifeLink Winter Appeal means that the work of organisations like The Shopfront can continue to work with those most in need.
The aim this year is to raise more than $300,000 – a figure that is greatly needed to help agencies and organisations that assist those in need in a variety of situations – whether it be in the form of practical emergency assistance or long-term support.