More than 25 years ago, a small group of concerned citizens in Rochester, New York, banded together to make a difference in the lives of inpatients at Rochester Psychiatric Center. They recognized that for many of the patients the stigma of mental illness compounds the difficulties of the illness itself, resulting in a loss of emotional support from family and friends, social isolation and loneliness. The outcome was increased reliance on the mental health system — to the point of remaining hospitalized — as a way of obtaining critical social and emotional support. Barbara Mestler was one of the first volunteers recruited to address this unmet need. In 1973, she joined the steering committee to help launch a new program, now known as the Compeer Program, recruiting community volunteers to provide one-on-one friendship and support for psychiatric inpatients.
Motivated by deep compassion, empathy, and an unwavering belief in the value of Compeer, Mestler became, and remains, a driving force to ensure the growth and success of the program. Today, Compeer serves consumers in both inpatient and outpatient setting in more than 122 programs worldwide. In 1998 alone, more than 6,700 mental health consumers received more than 245,000 hours of service from Compeer volunteers and staff. Throughout the history of the program, Compeer volunteers have used the power of their friendship to help more than 20,000 consumers nationwide.
In addition to her direct service, Mestler has provided invaluable program leadership. She was the first Chairperson of the Board, a member of the Board of Directors for more than 15 years, and is a Board Advisor today. She was one of the first Senior Resource Volunteers responsible for training new volunteers and still serves in this capacity. She has also chaired countless committees and remains a member of Compeer’s Speakers Bureau. In this role and on a daily basis, Mestler constantly advocates for Compeer in the Rochester community and continues to recruit many new volunteers.
In addition to her Compeer volunteer work, Mestler is a Junior Achievement advisor, a Career Development Services advisor, a leader in the Rochester Chamber of Commerce Women’s Council, and an active member of the Parkminister Presbyterian Church. Despite all of these demands on her time, Mestler continues to enthusiastically accept new duties with Compeer, carrying them out with a sense of dedication and responsibility.