Almost six years ago, the Christian Counselling Centre (CCC) opened its doors on Abaco. Although grants and donations from Nassau have helped to supplement its operating costs, the Centre is in urgent need of the community’s financial support.
“For the past six months, the Christian Counselling Centre has been struggling in a special way, and there have been times when its board of directors has wondered if they should close because of financial problems,” said Margaret Smith, CCC coordinator. “So we are back and forth between the board in Nassau and here to determine how to go forward. We recognize that there is a need for the services, and that we are called by God to fulfill this role in the community.”
In a few days, Smith will be leaving the Centre and relocating to Nassau. Smith shared that although she will be where her family is, she still wants to see the Centre succeed and continue to help the people of Abaco.
It is what she calls home mission.
After graduating in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in theology and missions, Smith went on the mission field for approximately six years to Holland, India and London. She remained home for another 14 years before returning to the United States for her graduate studies. After another eight years of living in the U.S., she came home and soon after found herself on Abaco.
Smith is comforted that someone as qualified and capable as Vernelle Swain, will take over from where she left off. Swain has a master’s degree in Counseling and Biblical Theology, and has worked as a case manager and therapist while living in Missouri with her husband Mark A. Swain. While residing in Tennessee, her expertise has expanded to include the roles of family therapist and child and adolescent therapist. Swain is currently pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Walden University, and she already serves as a coordinator and therapist at the Christian Counselling Centre on Abaco.
When Swain returned, she dropped by the CCC for a visit, and learned that they both knew the same religious people including a missionary while Smith lived in Mississippi and Swain was in Tennessee. Swain expressed a desire to work there, but the Centre could not afford to pay both women’s salaries. In time, Smith announced that she was leaving, and she gave them Swain’s information.
Initially, Smith was supposed to be on Abaco for three months to assist the Centre in becoming more self-sustaining, and to try to garner support from churches, corporate businesses and individuals. Her time was lengthened to three years.
During those years, Smith saw that one of the challenges facing the Centre is that people think “Christian” means everything is free, or that churches are supporting them. It is an unfortunate misconception because the grants only cover a portion of operating expenses and staff salaries.
Although she and Vernelle Swain are master’s level therapists, the cost of services has been reduced to accommodate all who need their help. Clients in Nassau pay anywhere from $120 to $140 per session, but on Abaco they are only charged $60 for each session with the provision that if they can’t pay, then they pay what they can. Even if they cannot pay anything, they are not turned away because the Centre is a non-profit organization.
Smith also noted that there is still a stigma when people consider counselling.
“It’s OK to go for counselling; it doesn’t mean I am the dregs of society, I am terrible, or I lack faith,” she assured. “I know that there is the feeling that if I have faith I should be able to deal with this.” Smith added that the CCC offers the only psychiatric clinic with Dr. David Allen, a Bahamian psychiatrist, who visits Abaco once a month. Dr. Allen also offers a Bahamian forum called The Family – People Helping People, during his visits.
The Magistrate’s Court and the Dept. of Social Services refers people to them for counselling, anger management, drug or substance abuse, parental training, and domestic violence to name a few. A few churches have referred people, but more can take advantage of their services.
“I want people to see this as a service for Abaco. This is for the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of Abaco, which means a safer and more constructive environment for all of Abaco,” Smith shared. “We are not just here for the Christian community, but for the entire community of Abaco. We have professional training that helps us to give practical ways and options to help people deal with their situations.”
She paused to give special thanks to CCC member Betty Roberts as well as a business person from Hope Town, who gave financial assistance throughout the summer, so they did not close. In 2011, their fundraising efforts began, but the money raised was very modest. The two women appealed to the church community, corporate sponsors and individuals to lend a helping hand.
“It doesn’t have to be a huge amount; just give consistent support, and do whatever you can to make sure this ministry remains,” Smith urged. “No matter how insignificant you think what you give is, it is significant for us and the community. Whatever you think God is calling you to do, or whatever you think you can do, is going to be helpful for us to survive the future.”
Unfortunately, Smith is not the only person who will be leaving. Rachael Johnson, the secretary/receptionist, will also be leaving the Centre this fall to attend college. Smith said that Johnson has been a Godsend, and that when she acquired her, she received the entire Johnson family.
Despite the ongoing changes, Vernelle Swain is prepared to lead the Christian Counselling Centre to another level. Her focus is to spend time networking and getting the financial campaign up and running because money is needed for the staff members and equipment for therapy sessions. She wants the Centre to become more visible in the community, and to remind people of who they are and what they are doing in order to increase their client base.
“People think that if they are not personally benefitting, they don’t need to support,” Swain added. “It is a service to the community.”
Vernelle is excited to see how everything will unfold based on the skills she has developed.
“The Christian Counselling Centre has brought together everything I love to do: counselling, a Christian environment, administration, networking and campaigning. My passion is for children and adolescents and by extension working with their families.
“Some kind of stamp will be on this [Centre] based on what my passion is.”