When violence broke out in South America in 1991, missionaries Don and Jane Thompson were sent back to the United States. They found themselves in California with no place to live.
“Our belongings didn’t come back for months,” said the Rev. Don Thompson.
Jane Thompson remembers feeling overwhelmed.
“It was hard in the beginning,” she said.
Jane Thompson said she wished there was a support group for people going through similar transitions. Friend Carol Word suggested starting a transitions support group to address some of those issues, and the support group took root in Long Beach, Calif.
The original group still exists in California, but in 1994, the Thompsons moved to Bradenton and started another Transitions group.
A Transitions group also has taken root at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus three years ago.
Transitions helps people cope with traumatic changes in their lives such as changes in job, income, or living situations, health issues, death of a loved one, addiction, and relationship issues, said Don Thompson, a retired United Methodist minister, co-founder of the original Transitions group, and now co-director of the Bradenton group.
The support group is for anyone going through life changes, he said.
“They come to Transitions and we support one another,” said Don Thompson.
The group uses a 16-step program based on the work of Charlotte Sophia Kasl, a clinical counselor and addiction specialist.
Kasl is the author of many books, including “Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps” and “Yes You Can,” guide books often used in support groups.
Jane Thompson said the 16-step program is a different approach to recovery, and focuses on empowerment and self discovery.
“We have found people want a feeling of empowerment,” said Jane Thompson. “They want to go beyond being powerless. It’s about listening and supporting people discovering who they really are.”
The group also refers to a book written by Don Thompson called “Lila Thompson; A Woman For All Seasons.”
The book is about his grandmother, the first woman elected to the New Jersey legislature in 1923, and her struggles against a patriarchal society.
Sales of the book also go to supporting the Transitions group.
The Rev. Dee Graham, co-director of the Bradenton group and campus chap- lain for four college cam- puses in Sarasota, started the Transitions group at USF to help deepen spiritual connections for students and staff, and provide inspiration.
They use the same 16-step principles as the Bradenton group.
The group has been small, but successful, said Graham.
“Sometimes people just need a listening ear,” she said. “Sometimes people just need spiritual support.”
Although issues that surface in Transitions mostly are about the death of loved one or recent job loss, in the USF group, the problems facing students are a little different, said Graham
“It’s the complexities of family life and being in school,” said Graham.
But Transitions doesn’t just support people’s problems, it also is about people’s successes, said Graham.
“It’s encouragement of each other,” said Graham. “They say I’ve survived this and I want to keep going.”
Transitions supports all faiths and is open to all people. A trained clergy facilitates each meeting, and if needed, referrals are made to other agencies.
“We have had some people say I don’t know what I would have done without this group,” said Jane Thompson.
Graham said Transitions is about helping achieve a balance in life.
“If you don’t have the inner connectedness going on, you’re going to be scattered all over,” she said.
The Bradenton Transitions group meets at 5 p.m. Sundays at the Congregational United Church of Christ, 3700 26th St. W. The group is interfaith and open to everyone. A free will offering is taken.
The USF group meets at 5 p.m. Wednesdays at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, room 242-B. The group is interfaith and open to everyone. A free will offering is taken.
For more information about Transitions, call the Rev. Don Thompson at 739-7103 or the Rev. Dee Graham at campus ministries, 309-0200.