Volunteer Programs

Volunteerism is an integral part of the Cole Center, and as the Center continues to grow and add programs, it relies more on its outstanding volunteers. The Cole Center supervises a volunteer program that includes consumer-run businesses and a teen mentor/education project that operate on the grounds of McLean Hospital. Some volunteers are incorporated into the McLean Hospital Volunteer Services and work within the McLean Hospital system. There are a number of volunteer opportunities available through the Cole Center. Volunteering at the Cole Resource Center offers consumers an opportunity to interact with peers on a professional level and helps build daily office and personal skills that can be useful in other job situations.

Consumer Run Businesses


"Twice Is Nice" Gift Cart

Located on the grounds of McLean Hospital in the de Marneffe Cafeteria. The gift cart is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Entirely run by volunteers, the gift cart offers many items at a low cost. Many items such as jewelry, dishes, stuffed animals (all in good or new condition), pocketbooks, books, etc… are donations from McLean staff and the outside community. Through the sales experience, volunteers develop employment skills in the next step of recovery. All proceeds of the gift cart support consumer activities.

Book Sales

Also located on the grounds of McLean Hospital in the de Marneffe Cafeteria, the book sales are offered on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. There are many books offered on members of the Cole Center members are happy to process special orders, if requested. All proceeds of the book sales support consumer activities.

Monthly Raffle

Donated items are offered on a monthly basis as raffle items. Raffle tickets are sold by volunteers in the de Marneffe Cafeteria, McLean Hospital on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Pass by the raffle table-you may get lucky!

Cole Center Library and Resources

The Cole Center offers a library in the deMarneffe Building, McLean Hospital with current articles and resources on an array of mental health topics. The library includes an adolescent section, created in memory of Jason Chesley that is a collection of reference books geared toward the unique concerns of adolescents who struggle with psychiatric illnesses.

The Cole to Teen Education Project


Aimed at building healthy relationships between adult volunteers and mentally ill adolescents of McLean Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CAP) program, The Cole to Teen Mentor Project, matches teen patients with adult mentors. Working closely with the CAP staff to ensure a positive experience, mentors and patients enjoy activities like having meals together, playing games and casual conversation in addition to mentoring in everyday life skills, which provide brief periods of respite during their intensive treatments. These meetings offer an important outlet during which the adolescents develop relationships, relax and enjoy creative activities.


Founded in 2003 by Carol Brown, Coordinator of Volunteer Services at McLean Hospital, The Cole to Teen Mentor Project began with a specific patient’s unique need and Carol Brown’s willingness to help. Dr. Cynthia Kaplan, director of Adolescent Services, informed Carol of Mary who was a resident for eight months in the CAP program who had no family to speak of. She had been abandoned at the age of two and lived in foster care and group homes. With severe depression, Mary, age fifteen, made attempts of suicide, frequently cut and harmed herself, and had been treated at many psychiatric settings. Carol, a mother of a special needs child, was asked to mentor Mary by spending quality time with her. Today, Mary is a high school graduate, has held employment and recently married a wonderful computer technician and has a one-year-old baby girl named Vanessa. Life is good for her at last. Inspired by the positive outcome of Carol’s mentoring, Carol approached the hospital administration and suggested that employees and former consumers of mental health join together as volunteer mentors. The project to date has 35 mentors who are carefully screened by a State and US CORI background check, and are required to complete a full day volunteer orientation provided by the hospital. Mentors stem from all walks of life and the program has grown to include recent college graduates, McLean employees, and members of the outside community of all ages.


Based on individual needs and interests adolescents are mentored in basic everyday life skills such as overall personal care, eating, dressing, hygiene, feeling good about their day, homework assignments, making friends, keeping friends and boundaries, as well as reoccurring weekly offerings such as the mentor lunch, arts and crafts clubs, journal and writers clubs and nature walks. The Cole Center provides monthly peer educators to attend a luncheon and share their stories of diagnosis, treatment and recovery that provide hope for these mentally ill adolescents.

An “Anti Bullying — No Violence Campaign” designed and encouraged by William S. Pollack, Ph.D., author of “Real Boys”, has spread rapidly amongst the teens. They receive a “Peer Leadership” bracelet discussing asked a series of questions/issues developed by Dr. Pollack as follows:

  • Has anyone ever teased shamed or bullied you by words, internet, IM or other means?
  • Bullying does not have to be physical: girls can be called fat, not welcome to clubs, etc.
  • Have you ever seen anyone being bullied? What did you do about it?

The teens are encouraged by mentors, if they witness anyone being bullied to go to a responsible adult who understand, someone that they trust and that will protect them against retaliation and to stay safe!
The adolescents may participate in group activities or request a “one-on-one” volunteer mentor for encouragement and support. “The program gives an opportunity to provide the teenage residents with a fun outlet and something to look forward to” says mentor Terry Mancini of the The McLean Imaging Center. “Whether we’re just talking or playing a game, I know that my participation in the program is beneficial for the kids and it’s rewarding for me as well.” Special occasion events celebrating birthdays, Thanksgiving dinner and holiday celebrations are offered as well. Mentors are encouraged to offer suggestions to develop appropriate/fun activities of interest to offer the teens. For example, Mary Beth Traynor, an executive secretary at McLean and long-time mentor suggested making polar fleece blankets and getting the teens involved in helping out the geriatric patients. She approached Malden Mills, a local manufacturer of polar fleece, and they donated 3 bolts of the fabric in vibrant cheery colors. The blankets were handmade by the teens and mentors and delivered to the geriatric patients on the inpatient unit. These older patients who are often cold were thrilled and the teens felt great.

Beyond providing weekly events and activities, there are other components to the program such as volunteer opportunities to work at the hospital’s gift cart, allowing the teens to gain work experience and comfort in dealing with the public and handling money. Individual peer educators are available for help with college and job applications. The program serves according to specific needs and is under the supervision of Joseph Gold M.D, chief medical officer, chief, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division, McLean Hospital; director, Community Child Psychiatry Services, Partners Psychiatry and Mental Health; Brian Pridgen, M.D, psychiatrist, Adolescent Program; and consulting psychologist, Cynthia Kaplan, Ph.D. administrative director, Child and Adolescent Program and Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. All activities are overseen and attended by program staff.


Halloween Party

A note of appreciation from teen

"Thank you Mentors for everything. You guys are something else. I value you guys very much. I really hope you guys never forget us. We look forward to having lunch every Thursday."



The Cole to Teen Mentor Project is named after Jonathan O. Cole, M.D. (deceased 2009), Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Chief Consultant in Psychopharmacology who donated the first $100 to support Carol’s initiative. Since its inception, the program has received donations from the Hunt Foundation, Abbott Laboratories, Cyberonics, Partners HealthCare, Belmont High School, Morrison Food Services, Harvard University, Forrest Pharmaceuticals as well as private individuals. Although there has been enough funding to support the program since 2003, there is a need for replenishment. Donations fund theatre and movie tickets, art supplies, music for holiday parties and special events, party gifts, hygiene products for residents in need, birthday cakes, and more. Funding is crucial for the program to continue. Activities are sometimes conducted on an as needed basis according to the population and funding available. Many teens after discharge go on to become peer leaders and lecture at high schools, colleges and events.


Number of adolescents who have participated since 1993 – 2011: Approximately 3,200


The goal of this project is to teach adolescents about peer education and its healing value. Other goals include:

  • help teens to develop the skills and knowledge to overcome obstacles in life, within themselves or in society;
  • help to build self-confidence in adolescents by viewing their illness as a strength and setting an example in the community;
  • empower and encourage teens to access information and resources for decision making;
  • exercise assertiveness in collective decision making and have the power of positive thinking about the ability to make change; and
  • develop the ability to inform others in regard to mental health issues by increasing their positive self-image, and access skills for improving personal circumstances.

Peer educators, members of the Cole Center who have dealt successfully with mental illness, help to highlight the successes of the program and volunteer each month by providing a series of talks that share their journeys through diagnosis, treatment and recovery. The teens are encouraged to use their illness as strength not a weakness. Some adolescents keep in contact with mentors after discharge and share their successes and life events outside of a psychiatric setting. Often adolescents return to visit the mentors and thank them for their time and input. Many mentors have also stated that the adolescents have in return taught them many lessons about their own relationships and resiliency.


A poem written by David, a participant of the “CAP Program”

For every tear we shed, they weep a waterfall.
Whenever we feel an ounce of pain, they take the weight upon themselves to beat.
These are the few, the elite, the mentors.

The Mentors never walk among us,
But rather they are always with us.
Some say that angels do not exist.
I however proudly disagree.

Other remarks from various adolescents

“The mentor program has inspired me to help others. The way the mentors inspire us to do great things and to recover is incredible. I look forward to it every week. The mentors make us feel comfortable, alive and like our lives are worth living. I wish we could be with them more than once a week.”

“Mentor lunch was something to look forward to each week and the game nights broke up the middle of the week nicely. It was nice to include the entire community and wish for more frequent night activities to occupy free time.”

“Thursday, mentor lunch is my favorite day of the week. The mentors showed me that there are tons of good times and safe activities. There isn’t enough time with the mentors – more activities at night”.

“It really helped knowing that there are more people who are supportive. They really care about each patient. More time with the mentors.”

“The speaker that conducted the peer education session was very inspirational and easy to relate to.”