That was Bowers’s first psychotic episode, back in early 1964, when he was just sixteen. It took him more than fifty years to find the help he needed.
A few minutes past noon, 71-year-old Joe Bowers strolls through the back door of the Friendly Harbor Community Center, a two-story brick building on the north side of Pueblo.
The joint has been open since 11 a.m., and there’s coffee brewing in a breakfast nook off the kitchen. Bowers pours himself a mug before joining a few of the “old-timers” who are listening to ’60s and ’70s classic rock on a radio in the living room. “The place is homey; the atmosphere is good,” he says.
At 1 p.m., a peer specialist will shuffle Bowers and his buddies into a conference room for an hour-long support-group session that’s available, free of cost, to any community center member interested in chatting. “There might be five or ten people on a given day, and there’s always at least one person who has a lot to talk about,” Bowers explains. “The thing about Friendly Harbor that’s different is it’s always an equal speaking to another equal. There’s no judgment.”
Bowers volunteers at Friendly Harbor three to four days a week. When he isn’t participating in support groups or hanging out with members, he might be at the store buying supplies for the organization or outside mowing the front yard, checking on a few of the trees he planted last fall.
Bowers only learned of Friendly Harbor in 2014 — but it’s been a safe harbor for him ever since.
Friendly Harbor had been founded in Pueblo almost two decades earlier, in 1996, by three people with severe mental illnesses: Chris Hart, Mike Mihalas and boardmember emeritus Robin Hill. Initially, the nonprofit was designed as a drop-in center aiming “to restore hope, dignity, and a sense of purpose to Pueblo Citizens who happened to have a mental illness,” according…