LEWISTOWN - When people are going through a tough time in life, a pastor often is the first person they turn to.
That is why a local group has initiated a program to teach pastors about helping people who are dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues.
The Pastoral Recovery Education Program, or P.R.E.P., provides education, resources and networking opportunities to faith leaders the Mifflin County area.
"One of the many strengths and preventative factors in Mifflin County is the faith based community, so we started thinking why not help them get more involved in recovery efforts?" said Lisa Stalnaker, one of the program organizers.
Through a health conference about spiritual recovery, Stalnaker and Jill Pecht of Clear Concepts Counseling found a chance to initiate the local program.
With help from many local agencies and the Rev. Donald Peters, Stalnaker and Pecht applied for and received a Recovery Initiative grant.
The first P.R.E.P. training was held this spring. More meetings are scheduled through October, Pecht said.
"After that, ongoing interaction will continue between members of the faith-based community and those who are in recovery ..." Pecht said. "We just started a Facebook page and an email list that will help with continued communication."
The next meting will be held from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. June 26 at the Penns Valley Christian Retreat Center on Ferguson Valley Road. The topic will be alcohol and drug dependence and the impact on family members.
On Aug. 28 in collaboration with the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Programs, P.R.E.P. will present "Understanding the Impact of Addiction for Clergy." The bureau oversees drug and alcohol treatment and prevention in the commonwealth.
This training is the first ever of its kind to be offered in Mifflin County, Stalnaker said. The bureau usually holds trainings like this in bigger cities, she said.
Connecting with pastors is important because they reach out to so many people in their communities, Pecht said.
"In the 17 years of working at CCC I have seen many avenues that people take in recovery. One of the more complete ways of staying in recovery or obtaining recovery is linking oneself to a faith-based program," Pecht said.
Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. will experience some mental or substance use disorder in their lifetime, according to the Behavioral Health Alliance of Rural Pennsylvania.
When these people seek treatment, they are more likely to contact a clergy member than a psychiatrist. But only about 13 percent of clergy have any substance abuse training, according to the alliance.
P.R.E.P. is something that the local faith-based community can turn to for education and resources about disorders, Stalnaker said.
Rev. Peters said ministers are seeing more and more people come to them for this kind of help.
"As a pastor facing the challenges of an ongoing and growing need in the community, pastors need to have a resource they can turn to in both understanding and education of the recovery process and journey ..." Peters said.
Participation in P.R.E.P. is free and open to everyone, including those who are in recovery. It is not limited to pastors. Registration is requested by calling Clear Concepts Counseling at 242-3070 or visiting the group on Facebook.
Agencies and individuals involved with organizing P.R.E.P. include Chris Wysocki from the Tri-County Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Wilda Fisher from Shelter Services Inc., Mike Hannon from the Tri-County Drug and Alcohol Commission, Nancy Records from Communities That Care, the Rev. Scott Sheffler and Bernie Zook.