We started this blog as another way to connect with you all on a bit more of a personal level and to share information in a longer format. For this first entry, I wanted to take a minute to introduce myself a bit more thoroughly and give you all a chance to get to know me better.
I’m Tim Saubers, the Peer Specialist Program Manager of the WI Peer Specialist Employment Initiative at Access to Independence. My role within the program is to oversee the training and certification of all the CPS and CPPS in Wisconsin as well as to provide technical assistance to any organization in the state that would like to create, develop, or grow their CPS or CPPS program. I do this with the goal of supporting a sustainable, effective, professional, peer workforce in Wisconsin.
Before coming to Madison, I lived in Milwaukee for the previous 8 years. I become a Certified Peer Specialist in July of 2016 and found employment at a local non-profit social services agency to provide direct service peer support as part of the Community Linkage and Stabilization Program (CLASP). This was my first experience working in a professional peer support role. Before taking this peer support position in Milwaukee, I had worked at a chain restaurant and had no experience in the behavioral health, social work, or non-profit fields.
I mention this, as well as the fact that my highest level of education is completing high school, because many people come from similar backgrounds. A common worry I often speak to people about in my current role is the idea that they may not have the most applicable work or education history when looking for employment as a CPS or CPPS. I firmly believe that we all have skills that, when viewed through different lenses, can help make us more effective peer specialists regardless of our work or education history. If we can showcase our skills and unique lived experiences effectively to employers, they can actually help us to find work as CPS or CPPS.
While working as a CPS in Milwaukee, I supported people who were considered to be in crisis, through the lens of the traditional, clinical definition: people who were being discharged from a psychiatric hospitalization, had attempted suicide, were engaging in self-harm, were using substances in an “unhealthy” manner, and so on. I loved supporting the people I worked with while I was in that position as they engaged with the community, grew their support systems, and we did fun activities together such as going to the Milwaukee Art Museum or spending time by Lake Michigan.
I learned and grew significantly as a CPS during my time in Milwaukee, developing my skills and coming to understand better that peer support is not about getting people sober or into recovery, but rather about building genuine human connections through shared experience and honoring the many different forms that can take. A little over a year after taking my first CPS position, I was promoted to supervise the program in which I worked. It was my first time in a supervisory role, and I was overseeing a team of 6 CPS.
Supervising was a challenging, new experience for me and taught me a lot about providing effective supervision of CPS specifically, program development, and my own ability to grow and take on new challenges. For so long, while experiencing mental health and substance use challenges, it felt as though I would never be able to work in a way that was meaningful to me. Given that previous belief, I found this new position to be very exciting. While in this supervisory role, I created new outcome measurement tools for the program, improved our long-term data collection and tracking systems, created updated satisfaction surveys for the people receiving peer support, expanded our referral sources, standardized training practices, and significantly grew the resources the program had to offer to people receiving support. By the end of my time supervising CLASP, I had been with the program for just over 2 years.
After about a year of supervising CLASP in Milwaukee, I applied for my current position as Peer Specialist Program Manager at Access to Independence. What followed was a whirlwind of an experience, as I was notified that I got the job on Halloween Day of 2018 and agreed to start on December 1st, giving me only about 30 days to get my life sorted out! Ultimately, everything came together, and I moved to Madison in December.
All in all, taking on this role has been a great experience so far. It has pushed me to grow professional, personally, and as a CPS. I’ve made a wide variety of changes and improvements to the program since starting and plan to continue doing so.
I hope this provides you with a better understanding of my experiences with peer support and how I came to be in this position. As I continue in my role and move this program forward, I’m always happy to chat with anyone who has feedback, suggestions, ideas, or who would just like to connect further. I invite you to feel free to reach out. I look forward to working with you all and continuing to support the development of a professional peer workforce here in Wisconsin!