At Amistad, relationships are built on mutual respect

By Catherine Berce

Originally founded in Portland in 1982 as a support community for families affected by mental illness, Amistad Peer Support and Recovery Center has since evolved into a supportive place
for people experiencing addiction, mental illness, homelessness, food insecurity and other challenges.

Today, Amistad offers free daytime peer-support groups, activities, free breakfast and lunch five days a week and other assistance to 600 to 700 people each month at 66 State St. At the heart of Amistad’s work is a belief in the power of people helping people. Staff members have themselves experienced addiction, recovery, mental illness, trauma, poverty, food insecurity, homelessness and more.

“We’re trying to engage with people as whole people,” says Executive Director Brian Townsend. “Peer support is very different from other modalities, and it’s often
uniquely successful in helping people arrive at personal transformation.”

Amistad offers oneon-one peer support and group peer support, but not traditional mentalhealth counseling.
Staff members trained and credentialed in peer support build relationships and help people challenge their assumptions in the way that a friend would.

“The alchemy is in the relationship,” says Townsend, noting that many visitors have gotten support in various other places where the dynamic is, ‘I’m the one seeking help and you’re trying to help me.’“

“We don’t have that rubric here. We basically see all relationships as mutual. We always see the person coming into Amistad as the sole expert on their own experience and we treat them that way,” Townsend explains. “We’re very authentically curious about their decisions and behaviors because we know there is a reason for every action and behavior and world view. And only after arriving at that place of mutual respect and understanding can we start pushing back and challenging these assumptions and world views.

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