Female Wider Circle member Simone standing against a camel statue at a park smiling thoughtfully at the camera

For this Member Spotlight edition, and in honor of National Mental Health Awareness month, our editorial team was honored to sit down with Wider Circle – Michigan member, Simone DBouk. Simone was kind enough to share how new friends and a renewed sense of purpose through Wider Circle helped her overcome the mental and health obstacles she faced in an unfamiliar country so far away from her family in Lebanon. At the end of our talk together, Simone said that by sharing her story, she hopes that others realize “no one needs to struggle with their challenges alone – in my case, I just needed someone to help me feel comfortable asking for help and opening up to new experiences.”

Q: Simone, thank you for talking with us today. It must have been very difficult for you to leave your lifelong home and most of your family in Lebanon just 5 years ago. Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you faced? 

I really missed my family. I came here with my mother, who is not very mobile. And I have a teenage son who was having a really hard time adjusting to his new school and a new way of life. We just didn’t feel like we had anyone to turn to for support, and I began to suffer from a lot of emotional stress. 

Q. How did you find the help you needed to get through these difficult times? 

It was very good timing when Juhaina, the Wider Circle group leader in my area, called to let me know about the health and social programs that Wider Circle provided as a part of my Medicaid plan. She was not pushy at all, and I felt comfortable talking with her because we shared a similar background and spoke the same language. She invited me to her weekly Zoom calls, where I learned about so many topics to help me with my stress – like how to think positively, meditation for sleep and relaxation, and how to take better care emotionally and physically. She also brought in guest speakers who were experts in helping Middle Eastern immigrants deal with transitioning. All the talks were easy to follow, and gave me the emotional support I was really missing in my life. 

I enjoyed the Zoom meetings so much, I soon felt comfortable attending Juhaina’s face to face meetings. 

Q. What would you say was the biggest difference between your Zoom meetings and your face-to-face experiences with Wider Circle? 

I was hesitant and nervous to go to the in-person meetings at first. But then when I saw all of the people I recognized from the calls, it was so easy to talk to them and share stories with each other. It was an instant sense of community of open arms. We have become like family, we check in on each other and text each other – you never feel alone because you know someone is always looking out for you.  

Q. What are some examples of how your Wider Circle family has helped you outside of the meetings and calls? 

Juhaina and her staff are trained to connect members to all kinds of resources for pretty much any issue you may have. And if they don’t know the answer, they will find it out for you. They helped me find a great new doctor and dentist, as well as a therapist for me and my son. They also helped connect me to job resources in my area. 

Q. And your son joins you for Wider Circle events sometimes, right? Has that helped your relationship in any way? 

Definitely. It has allowed us to get away from our daily routine and see each other in a new light. My son loves to talk to the husbands in the group, and enjoys volunteering to help at the events. It gives him a purpose and lets him see how other families work together. Just as important, he sees me as a multi-faceted person of value to society and deserving of his respect, not just his mom telling him what to do all the time!

Q. What advice would you give others who were considering joining Wider Circle? 

I have researched other organizations in my area but they are not as organized and do not communicate well. Wider Circle just takes the pressure out of seeking support and makes you feel relaxed and comfortable asking for help. They have a caring style and I feel like there are a lot of other people there like me. I also really love all the different ways there are to connect – phone, Zoom, face-to-face, whatever you like. One of my favorite meeting places is the local bakery, where we laugh and share stories. Wider Circle has made a big difference in my life – I encourage anyone to give it a try.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or just needs a trusted friend to talk to, please call Wider Circle at (800) 656-0228.

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About the author: Brian Christina