Fed up with all the talk about the problem of mental illness in Dallas, Pastor and Oak Cliff resident Joel Pulis decided to take some action nearly five years ago. By founding the Well, a Christian ministry to the mentally ill, Pulis began meeting the needs of many of our neighbors in Oak Cliff.
“I am tired of front-page stories about the abuse, neglect and lack of funding facing those with mental illness,” Pulis admits, “and I believe that we cannot wait or depend on changes in Washington or Austin, but must respond to the cries with action.”
Inspiration for the Well came in 2001 after considering the biblical account of the Samaritan woman in the Book of John, and meeting with several friends and family members. The plan was to provide for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those with mental illness, so Pulis left his position at Cliff Temple Baptist Church to become the Community Pastor and Executive Director of this specialized ministry to the mentally ill. His brother, Josh Pulis, joined the team as well and serves as Director of Programming.
“The Well community is a faith-based, grass-roots organization of people befriending and caring for those with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression.” About nine worshippers attended Pulis’s first service. “Since then,” he explains, “what began as a simple outreach has developed into a holistic approach to care for the mentally ill. We have expanded into residential programming, opened a weekday community center, and increased our case management services.”
Called “Saturday Night Life,” the Well’s worship services take place on Saturday evening rather than Sunday morning to better suit its members’ lifestyles. The services now include over 85 people. The Well also offers a Community Life Center with activities such as recovery groups, women’s support groups, member-led devotional meetings as well as a variety of recreational programs.
Members find many levels of care at the Well, from help with daily living skills to employment support and management of medical care. One member found much-needed support, for instance, when frequent hospitalizations caused her to lose her job and be placed in a boarding home. After working with a ministry volunteer, she was able to live independently again and now works as an administrative assistant for the ministry.
Providing safe, humane housing opportunities for mentally ill neighbors is a big part of the Well. Already maintaining residential support by helping several members move out of boarding homes and into their own apartments, the Well launched a new effort this summer, called Jacob’s House.
A structured residential program in which members move into a home owned by the ministry, Jacob’s House offers its residents daily support with everyday living concerns such as cooking and cleaning. One resident found a haven at Jacob’s House, having previously lived in an unsafe apartment where he feared his belongings would be stolen and where another resident once threw a brick at his head. “In the few short months since [living at Jacob’s House],” Pulis says, “[this member’s] transformation has been profound, with several volunteers commenting about his vast improvements in demeanor, dress and hygiene.”
And Pulis plans to grow Jacob’s House in the coming years. Currently housing 10 residents, Pulis wants to expand. “We hope to continue the exodus out of oppressive boarding homes by assisting our clients in finding and maintaining decent living arrangements,” he says. Receiving several regional recognitions including the statewide Genesis Award for Innovative Ministry, the Well has earned a reputation for a positive new approach to working with mentally ill individuals. Pulis says, “We have received affirmation from those in the professional mental health community that we are pursuing an innovative path and developing a powerful prototype of care, recovery and life-transformation for people living with mental illness.” Always in need of volunteers and financial support, Pulis encourages neighbors to stop by the center or visit a worship service to get to know the ministry better. “That way you can get a feel for the work and know how to best fit in,” Pulis says. If fear is holding you back, Pulis offers some encouragement: contrary to stereotypes about mentally ill people, they are overwhelmingly gentle and grateful people. Further, the Well provides training and support for volunteers. Monetary donations are also greatly appreciated as the ministry hopes to expand its community center hours and hire new staff to increase the level of care available to its members.
As Oak Cliff residents celebrate the growth occurring in our region, Pulis encourages the community to get involved with the Well. “I love Oak Cliff!” he says, “I have lived here for most of my life. Therefore, just like the resurgence in real estate development and retail openings, I am seeking to better Oak Cliff. My investment and contribution is in the lives of our neighbors.”
Currently located at 125 Sunset Avenue within the facilities of Cliff Temple Baptist Church, the Well Community gathers for Saturday Night Life from 5-7:30 p.m. each week. A meal is provided and visitors are always welcome. For more information, visit www.wellcommunity.net.
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