Offering Hope, One Story at a Time
By Lisa Gregory
Doug Weikel believed strongly in the saying that you should never judge a book by its cover.
“He always saw the best in people,” says Tish Weikel, founder of Phoenix Counseling Services and Doug’s daughter. “And no matter what somebody would say about anybody, even if it was just a little bit negative, he would say, ‘Everybody has a story, and you don’t know their story.’”
Doug understood this all too well. He had his own story. He was a lifelong alcoholic before getting sober the last six years of his life. In fact, says Tish, he had just been arrested for his fifth DUI and was incarcerated when he attempted to get sober for the final time. “He was in jail and attending [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings,” she says. “It really clicked for him the idea of sobriety and fellowship.”
Yet, despite his demons, he also had a big heart. “He would invite complete strangers to Christmas dinner or to a family picnic,” she remembers.
In remembrance of her father and his struggles, successes, and generosity, Tish has established Doug’s Haven Inc. The nonprofit is operating in conjunction with Phoenix Counseling. “Doug’s Haven was really founded on the premise that everybody has a story to how they got to where they are today,” says Tish. “And those stories matter.”
Hope is in those stories, especially for those struggling with mental illness and substance abuse—and the stigma they may face because of it. “We don’t talk about mental health enough,” says Tish. “We don’t talk about addiction enough.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans will have a mental illness at any given point in their lives.
To know others travel the same path, says Tish, can be powerful.
“At Doug’s Haven, we know recovery looks different for everyone,” she says. “Creating a forum where people can talk openly—and share their story—and we can celebrate those successes together is going to create a happier and healthier community. “
To start the dialog, Doug’s Haven is asking people to share their stories in a book of hope.
“We want local Central Pennsylvania people who want to share their experiences in recovery and their stories of resiliency and success to submit something,” explains Tish. “It could be a story, a poem, or a piece of artwork.”
The submissions will be compiled into a book and distributed in the community. “I foresee the books sitting in doctor’s offices and just big community places where people can grab them and pick them up and read them and be like, ‘Oh, I’m not alone,’” says Tish.
Those making submissions may share their name or choose to remain anonymous, and the organization is currently raising funds so the books can be free. Besides the book, which will be revised periodically, Doug’s Haven also is raising funds to develop a scholarship program for individuals in need of treatment but struggling financially.
Tish also wants to develop a campfire chat activity as well, where individuals can sit around the campfire with local counselors. “We’re hoping that it’s going to be done in a way where you not only can share your story around the campfire,” she says, “but it’s a non-threatening place, right? So, it’s for the community. We’re not their counselor, but you’re meeting a counselor in a less intimidating way. Any questions about the counseling process could be asked there.”
Finally, in keeping in the spirit of Doug’s generosity and his love of enjoying a meal with others, the organization would like to offer the ability to gather for a meal during the holiday season. “We’d like to be able to institute something around the holidays called Doug’s Shared Table,” says Tish, “where people who really don’t have the means or the resources can come and get some meals.”
Tish thinks the idea of Doug’s Haven would have delighted her father. “He was very much the ‘I’m going to give you the shirt off of my back’ kind of person,” she says. “I don’t have a lot, but I will go the extra mile to help somebody. That was him. He was really big on showing his affection and care for humanity.”
Now Doug’s Haven is continuing that legacy. And the idea of hope.
“My dad really taught me to keep the faith,” says Tish. “It’s never too late to get help. My dad didn’t get sober until his late 40s after multiple prior attempts. Other people may enter recovery earlier in life and some later.
“But no matter what a person’s life path, recovery is possible, and that’s what keeps hope alive.”
Giving To Doug’s Haven
To contribute a submission to the Doug’s Haven book, to make a donation, or to learn more about the organization, email Tish Weikel at [email protected].