Editor's note: Helping Hands is a new Sunday column offering our area nonprofit groups a chance to talk about their work. If your group would like to be considered for participation, email jperry@dlnewspapers.com.

Nestled on the second floor of Graystone Plaza, adjacent to Godfather’s Pizza, a group of people gather to play cards, watch TV, plan camping trips and enjoy a meal with friends. The group of friends are all residents of the area, and most of them live right here in Detroit Lakes.

They stop in regularly at A Place To Belong What would they do without this refuge where they have a sense of belonging and safety?

A Place To Belong (AP2B) is a social club for local residents with a diagnosis of serious mental illness who are working on their recovery. We have served Becker County for over 20 years, but only in the past few years have we come out of hiding to tell the community who we are and why we exist. We have a goal to inform the community about the need for mental health for everyone, and to reach out to those who are languishing in their homes.

Loneliness, Isolation and stigma are major roadblocks to recovery for persons afflicted with mental illness. Whether it is anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress or a host of other illnesses, we offer a safe and accepting family like setting to support people who are suffering. Instead of isolating in their homes (which in fact contributes to the decline of wellness) our members find AP2B the source of love and friendship.

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When asked, “What would you do if you didn’t have A Place To Belong?” answers very from “I’d be so bored” to “I would not have survived!” Serious mental illness can be life-threatening and isolation exacerbates the risk. Often, the answer for these individuals is to have a safe place where they can develop meaningful friendships, connect with services critical to their success, and just have someone to talk to. AP2B strives to provide that listening ear, offer encouragement and provide a wide variety of activities, community interaction, and education to support members on their road to recovery.

A 501c3 nonprofit organization, AP2B provides free services to all Becker County adults who have a diagnosis of serious mental illness. For some people who suffer with mental illness, the only time they get out of their apartments is to go to the doctor or to therapy. Since we do not provide therapy of treatment, our members find they can get out of the house by coming to the club, and relax and be themselves. Once a new applicant settles in and shares a meal with others, they find themselves among friends who understand the challenges and complications of living with mental illness, and they quickly form strong bonds.

When her husband passed away, Mary (not her real name) thought her life was over. She found herself in a life-threatening depression where all hope was gone. She spent all her time either in bed or on the sofa. Her social worker introduced her to AP2B and she started attending on a regular basis. Before long she was part of the family.

"This place SAVED MY LIFE! I talk with others, play cards and games, and participate in activities that are outside the club. I still have bad days, but I have something to look forward to. I don’t know what I would do without this place, it’s such a big part of my life."

As a trained paramedic herself, Mary has saved the life of a friend at the club when she performed the Heimlich maneuver when the man was choking. So, after AP2B saved her life and helped her find hope, she reached out to save the life of another. An so it goes.

For more information about A Place To Belong and whether you or a loved one would benefit from our services, call 218-846-9022 and ask to speak to Christine, our activity director.