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Strength, Wellness and Hope

07/08/2020 10:08:09 PM


This week we are proud to highlight the Strength, Wellness and Hope program.

Many men who are over 50 years old today were brought up in a way that did not encourage the pursuit of spiritual growth or emotional collaboration with other men. During fraught times, it can be especially challenging for men to process existential issues that arise. Fortunately, Harvey Keenan saw this void and about three years ago, established the Strength, Wellness and Hope program for men at VBS.

Harvey is one of our VBS Counseling Center paraprofessional counselors and the VBS liaison to the LA County Department of Mental Health Faith Based Advocacy Council. This council was founded to help encourage awareness, education and support of mental health needs and services.  

Originally written by Dr. Charles Suhayda for the Los Angeles County of Mental Health, “The Spiritual Self-Care Manual and Tool Kit “ was developed to empower women and men on a wellness journey. This manual provides the foundation for the work of the Strength, Wellness and Hope groups. It includes works by well- known individuals such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. 

Lesser known stories by unsung heroes are also included. For example one entry tells of Captain Leonard LaRue who, along with his crew of 13 seamen, rescued 14,000 North Koreans refugees from the port of Hungnam in 1950 and traveled 450 miles to bring them to safety in Pusan. His moral clarity in those extreme circumstances is eternally inspiring. After reading this story, members of the group discussed their feelings about whether they felt that they would have had the courage to have taken such risks. And they shared personal experiences that required them to take risks. They looked into themselves to explore what motivated those actions.   

One member shared the following: “The SWH group has been a full life experience, a place to process here and now issues with a group of men I trust who offer wise and caring feedback. They have helped me to open up to my own issues, and I appreciate the opportunity to bond with other men in trust, love, concern, advice, and mourning.”

Another entry tells about Mr. Azim Khamisa, a bereaved father whose son was shot and killed by a 14 year old gang member. Though the killer was convicted and jailed, Mr. Khamisa could not let go of his rage and depression. Eventually through his spiritual search for meaning, he decided to seek out the killer and to forgive him. He now works with his son’s killer and grandfather to teach non-violence, forgiveness and healing to high school students. Through his work he honors his son’s life. This story allowed the group to explore their own individual ability to forgive. This has been a recurring theme and group members strive to let go of anger and be forgiving of both themselves and others.

Within two weeks of the “Safer at Home” order, Harvey had the group up and running on Zoom. They meet every week and since we’ve been at home, they have welcomed several new members. Many members of the group live alone, so the group serves as a virtual family. By reading through other people’s experiences, members are able to discuss their own experiences. They practice processing their feelings in a comfortable and relaxed environment. Newcomers are welcome to attend one meeting to decide if the group feels right for them. There is no pressure. 

Another member expressed his feelings about this group, “It is a place to integrate spirituality into the challenges we face in daily life. In a sense, a lifeline in very turbulent waters. I look forward to every week with great enthusiasm. It provides a place to listen to other stories that can heal the soul, and provide companionship on a very deep level. An inspiration!”

The accomplishments of this group are reflected in this short poem by Maya Angelou:

I searched for God, a God I could not see.
I searched for my soul, 
Then I searched for me.
I embraced my brothers and sisters 
And found all three.

If you would like to learn more about the Strength, Wellness and Hope program and/or would like to participate in one of their meetings, please contact Harvey Keenan at

Article written by Elana Zimmerman.

Sat, October 24 2020 6 Cheshvan 5781