The Churches Care Program
(Churches Care: Accompanying persons experiencing
mental illnesses and addictions)
Why the Churches Care Program?
25% of people who experience a mental illness in the U.S. say the first place they sought help was not a counselor's office, doctor's office, or clinic -- it was a local church. But many churches and church leaders say they are not adequately prepared to respond to these needs.
What is the Churches Care Program?
The Churches Care Program is an initiative that strengthens the ability of churches to support and empower individuals and families experiencing a mental illness or addiction. The program provides intensive training and support for churches and church leaders to increase their ability to support, assist, empower, and refer to effective mental health or addictions treatment, people in their congregations and communities who are in need.
Broader and deeper than 'Mental Health First Aid,' the Churches Care program will help you and your church support individuals and families with knowledge, understanding, reduced stigma, and hands-on strategies to promote improved long-term positive mental health and sobriety.
The Churches Care Program was developed by We Rise International a U.S. 501c3 health education non-profit based in Raleigh, NC and Lancaster, PA, and rolled out to 80 churches in Pennsylvania in 2019-2021 in partnership with Eastern Mennonite University, through support of the Lancaster Legacy Foundation. It is now being expanded by We Rise International into other states.
The Churches Care Program provides the following six mental health and addictions
capacity building components to church leaders and their church congregations over
Church leaders receive a 2.5-day training on mental illnesses & addictions. (pastors, lay leaders, and church- connected health professionals)
18 hours of CEUs
18 months of free professional clinical mental health and addictions guidance from a licensed counselor helps trained church leaders respond to individual needs that arise in their churches and communities.
Referral guidance, support strategies, and more.
Resources increase the knowledge of the entire church congregation.
Church leaders receive a copy of the book Streetlights: Empowering Christians to Respond to Mental Illnesses and Addictions and other resources to educate their congregation.
Church Assessment and 1:1 consultation
This confidential congregational questionnaire helps each church identify areas of strength and areas for growth in how their congregation perceives the church is supporting people experiencing mental illnesses or addictions. Churches receive a confidential results report and in-person consultation to help them understand and respond to the results.
Participating church leaders connect with staff of local mental health and addictions treatment agencies, halfway houses, and support programs, to increase church leaders’ knowledge of local treatment resources, and their ability to refer and connect individuals in their church and community to effective treatment and support.
Networking with other churches to share resources and lessons learned.
Participating church leaders (pastors, lay leaders or health professionals) remain connected to others who've gone through the program, during and after the 18 months.
Janelle Bitikofer, MSW, LCSW
Janelle Bitikofer, MSW, LCSW is a mental health and addictions counselor and educator with more than twenty years of experience assisting individuals and families. She has worked in all levels of mental health and addictions treatment, from psychiatric hospitals and inpatient drug treatment programs to outpatient counseling and emergency response services. Janelle is the Executive Director of We Rise International and the author of “Streetlights” a mental health and addictions guidebook for Christians. She’s served in leadership roles in various churches since 1996.
Linda E. Witmer, RN, MPH, MSPH, and M.Div.
Linda is the Director of the RN-BS in Nursing program at EMU Lancaster. She has 18 years of college-level teaching experience in nursing programs: Linda international experience, serving under both Mennonite Central Committee and Eastern Mennonite Mission with the K’ekchi’ Maya in Guatemala. Her work as a community health nurse in Coatesville, PA led to the initiation of Bridge of Hope, Inc. a non-profit organization serving homeless women and children. Linda is also a trained spiritual director and leads retreats. She is involved in leadership roles at Laurel Street Mennonite Church.
Certified Recovery Specialist
Scott is a person in long term recovery from addiction. He is also a Recovery Support Specialist working within the Center of Excellence Program at T.W. Ponessa and Associates Counseling Services in Lancaster, an opioid treatment and recovery program. He is also a trainer for the GOAL PROJECT, a global organization that assists faith organizations and congregations build sustainable addiction prevention or recovery support ministries. He is the chairperson for the Lancaster County Recovery Alliance, has been involved with the Lancaster County Drug and Alcohol Commission's Advisory Board, Project Lazarus Lancaster, Lancaster County Joining Forces, and is on the Board of Directors with the Elizabethtown area Communities That Care. He works with individuals to establish and maintain recovery from opioid and heroin addictions.