Everyone needs a hand to hold on to

The folks behind the Asheville-based nonprofit Life o' Mike, which advocates for health-care reform, are gearing up to boost their presence in the community.

"We thought we'd get into making more of a difference," says Leslie Boyd, whose son, Mike Danforth, is the organization's namesake. He died in 2008 after battling cancer. Since then, the group's Web site (lifeomike.org) has collected stories, written by friends and family members of people with medical conditions, highlighting problems and inequities in the U.S. health-care system. (Boyd penned a commentary on health-care reform elsewhere in this issue.)

Now, the group is launching a program offering support to families and patients affected by chronic illness or disability in the form of folks who have gone through the same thing. Volunteers in the Patient Pals & Family Friends program will be schooled in communication techniques such as active listening to provide a sympathetic ear for people going though health-related hard times.

"When Mike died, I wished there was someone there I could talk to, and there wasn't," Boyd recalls. "This is peer support. it's going to let them know there's somebody there."

The first volunteer training session, scheduled for Jan. 23, will include presentations by a registered nurse, a psychologist and Bart Floyd, advocacy coordinator at the Western Alliance Center for Independent Living.

The project, says Boyd, is asking volunteers to commit to spending one hour per week for six months, though she believes people will wind up wanting to give more.

The first training session for the Life o' Mike Patient Pals & Family Friends program is slated for Saturday, Jan. 23, at First Congregational United Church of Christ (20 Oak St. in downtown Asheville) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information or to register, call 243-6712 or e-mail lifeomike@gmail.com.

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