Keep Oregon Well is a public advocacy campaign designed to reduce stigma surrounding mental and behavioral health, build a trauma-informed community, and give people the opportunity to learn more about mental health and stand with those struggling with theirs.

This ongoing volunteer spotlight blog series features some of the many caring, talented, passionate people it takes to spread the word about Keep Oregon Well throughout Oregon!

Keep Oregon Well Volunteer Spotlight: Elizabeth Smith

Why does mental health matter to you?

I’m a former licensed therapist, plus my own history includes anxiety and depressive disorders. They run in my family and I’ve seen the difference it makes when these challenges are framed as chronic, manageable health issues (like diabetes) and  de-stigmatized.

What initially made you want to volunteer with Trillium?

I had attended several volunteer events with a friend who is on the board. He asked me to take over writing grant requests for events. Three done and more to come!

Tell me about your favorite volunteer experience. 

It was a lot of fun to choose items for the Christmas bags for families, and clearly the volunteers enjoyed the experience of assembling the bags!  The highlight of every event is Shanin’s tour of the campus. The size, beauty, history, and pervasive sense of calm, healing energy resonate deeply every time.

Tell us about some of the ways you take care of yourself. 

Restorative yoga, meditation, breathing and mindfulness help me center. Having trusted, non-judgmental souls with whom I can process aloud is crucial. Crosswords and lightweight novels can be a welcome distraction. Trees, trees and more trees!

Do you have a favorite quote?

Rather than a quote I have an image that comes to mind. I first heard this in 1994 and it still helps me to help others.

A person has fallen into a hole. It’s dark, deep, scary, and they just can’t find a handhold to climb out. I have several choices here. I could put my hands in my pockets and be glad it’s not ME down there. I could climb into the hole with them; they would no longer be alone, but then we’d both be stuck.

Instead, I find a sturdy tree, one deeply rooted. I tie one end of a rope around the trunk of the tree and the other around my waist, and I lie on my stomach at the edge of the hole, extending my hand down into the darkness. This feels risky, since I don’t know what I will encounter, but no matter how bad it is I know I won’t be dragged in. I call to the person in the hole, telling them to follow the sound of my voice until our hands touch.

I am not strong enough to haul them out alone; they must do the hard, hard work of scaling those walls.  My job is to hold on, stay grounded to my tree, and keep encouraging them to climb. You. Can. Do. This.