Friendship Place Helps People Live Well with Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health agencies in the Fox Valley address the needs of those living with mental illness and promote the overall mental health of our community. The Retired & Senior 55+ Volunteer Program is helping by recruiting volunteers. In 2017, 35 RSVP volunteers assisted in meeting the mental health needs of agency clients. They offered 2,436 hours of service to those individuals.

The following story highlights one of the partner agencies of the Volunteer Center:

Friendship Place is a nonprofit social, educational and recreational outreach facility for adults with severe and persistent mental illness. The agency encourages adults with mental illness to live well by fostering an environment that provides members with peer support, advocacy and education.

The agency, which is in downtown Neenah, offers a homelike atmosphere where people with mental illness can safely gather in a clean, non-judgmental, comfortable setting.
Here they can develop interpersonal relationship skills and build self-esteem.

Friendship Place members and staff go all out for the annual Halloween Party last year, with games, prizes, spooky treats and, most importantly, great memories made with each other.

On a typical day, 25 to 40 participants come to Friendship Place – on a volunteer basis – for a variety of activities, including educational, recreational and social programs and events.

Stephanie Wheeler, program coordinator at the agency, said one of the major differences between Friendship Place and other outreach facilities is that members of Friendship Place actually decide on what programs they want implemented.

The Kindness Rocks Project is an example.

Members paint rocks with inspirational messages and then hide them around the community for other people to find. If a member finds a rock, they replace it with one of their own or hide it in a different location for someone else to find.

The recreational aspect to Friendship Place’s programming is key to mental health. Wheeler explained that when life gets tough, two of the first things to fall to the wayside are self-care and laughter or fun – the very things that help us get through difficult times.

“The recreational programming at Friendship Place is designed to give members healthy, positive experiences to draw on during those challenging times,” she said. “We’ve discussed with our members about how you never know what kind of day someone is having and what a difference finding one of these rocks could make to someone’s day. This has resonated with them to the point that they bring their own rocks to paint and then walk to local parks together to hide them!”

Another component of the agency’s programming is educational. Friendship Place has collaborated with a variety of organizations, such as ThedaCare Physicians, Housing Authority, UW-Extension and Fox Valley Technical College OTA.

One of the more popular programs at Friendship Place is a version of “Eat Well for Less,” from the United Way Weight of the Fox Valley Initiative. The program is designed to provide families with easy, healthy recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes and cost $12 or less to feed four people.

“At Friendship Place, we take our members through the entire process, from writing a grocery list, to shopping, prepping and cooking the meal,” she said. “Our members then get to have lunch together or take their meal home for later.”

The program is a success. Wheeler said members have demonstrated their independence by making dinner for their families!

There also is a social component to the agency’s programming. In fact, one of the agency’s main goals is to decrease isolation. The network of support members receive by attending activities at Friendship Place gives them accountability and motivation not to spend too many days alone.

The agency’s calendar is program based and includes a variety of activities, including pet, music and art therapy; educational events, volunteer opportunities and socialization activities. Building communication skills is key.

“In the fast-paced, tech-savvy world in which we live, these social skills are quickly disappearing,” she said. “Social cues and graces are tools that make everyday tasks more pleasant and by practicing these skills with our members, we feel that we’re setting them up for success outside of Friendship Place.”

There are many volunteer opportunities at Friendship Place. Volunteers lead small groups of members in craft projects, exercise/fitness programs, diet and nutrition or new skills development.

The agency is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. For more information, visit or contact Stephanie Wheeler at 920-729-9975 or