“I believe in what Project ABLE does, and I just want to tell everybody about it all the time. If I had known about it through my own recovery journey, it would have been a different journey. A lot easier, I think. I would have been more connected, would have had more support. And I wouldn’t have had to figure everything out for myself.” – Barb

Barb McDowell is the Executive Director of Project ABLE (A Better Life Experience), a Salem-based organization committed to providing peer support services for those in recovery from mental health and co-occurring experience. Project Able is supported financially by the Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network.

Barb is someone who believes in the power of stories. There’s the one about the gentleman who came to Project ABLE after serving a prison sentence. “Transitions can be really challenging,” she says. “This gentleman came out of the prison system really wanting to change. He has some mental health challenges, he’s had some traumatic experiences, and he could have very easily gone back to the same people and the same environment that got him into jail. But he decided not to. He heard about Project ABLE and came here, started receiving one-on-one peer support, and he has just made the most amazing changes in his life, very consciously, through that support. He made a different set of friends and a different way of doing things has shown up in his life. He’s learned new communication skills. Now he runs a small business that is starting to flourish because he’s showing people he’s reliable, he’s trustworthy, and he’s super hard working. He just really took to heart having peer support and learning what recovery is all about. He went to lots of the different groups we offer, and now he provides peer support on top of running his business. He’s fabulous. Heart of gold.”

Being good at telling people’s stories is part of what brought Barb to her position at Project ABLE. Her educational background is in communications, which led her to a fast-paced career in marketing. But her own story took her places she didn’t plan or expect, and her own experiences with mental health and addiction issues, like those of many who work and volunteer at Project ABLE, deeply informs her work. “I believe in what Project ABLE does, and I just want to tell everybody about it all the time. If I had known about it through my own recovery journey, it would have been a different journey. A lot easier, I think. I would have been more connected, would have had more support. And I wouldn’t have had to figure everything out for myself.”

What’s different about Project ABLE? Formed in 2003, the non-profit, consumer-run organization focuses on providing peer support—connecting people to one another through similar experiences and interests, so they can get one-on-one support. “Peer supporters don’t direct anyone, don’t tell them what to do, don’t make decisions for them. They walk beside them and support them.” Project ABLE also provides state certified peer support training.

And though Project ABLE’s community centers offer a vigorous and popular program of classes and clubs ranging from Chair Yoga, to Crafts, to Trauma Healing and Recovery, to Job Club, the bulk of peer-to-peer work happens out in the community. “Our people are OUT,” Barb says. “They’re out at coffee shops and shootin’ hoops, going for walks, that kind of thing. We’re out in the community, covering six different counties.”

Who should come to Project ABLE? “Anybody who would like to. Our focus is anybody 18 and older who either currently has or has had a mental health and/or co-occurring challenge. Anybody is welcome, and everything is absolutely free. We can provide support and a safe place for you!”

Project ABLE’s Salem office is located at 1599 State Street, and can be reached at 503-363-3260. Visit projectable.org to learn more.