This blog is managed and maintained by staff at Access to Independence working on the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. The words, views, and values presented herein are not necessarily representative of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

As we launch this blog for the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative, I would like to take an opportunity to introduce myself, share a bit of my background in peer support work, and some things I’m excited for in my role here as the Peer Specialist Program Communications Assistant.

Discovering the Value of Peer Support

The things that brought me to my work as a Certified Peer Specialist, are similar to many others drawn to such work. My personal, lived experience relating to navigating periods of intense emotional distress, the effects of trauma, challenges with substance use, and the material impacts of marginalization due to my sexuality and gender identity led me to seek out support from others who “got it” in one way or another. I felt more comfortable, and most safe, sharing and seeking support from others with shared or similar experiences.

Experiencing the unique benefits of peer support first-hand is what led me to want to offer the same to others. After completing my training and taking the Wisconsin exam, I began working as a Wisconsin Certified Peer Specialist in 2014. I found myself, throughout the coming years, offering support and forming connections and relationships built on mutuality with a wide range of people in a variety of settings including neighborhood coffee shops, local libraries, parks, hospitals, homes, peer-run respites, and community centers.

Growing as a Certified Peer Specialist

I embarked on my journey as a Certified Peer Specialist working with Grassroots Empowerment Project (GEP), supporting people who were navigating their own lived experience and recovery while also striving towards employment and vocational goals within the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation system. While with GEP, I also served as a facilitator in the Participatory Decision-Making process for various stakeholders in La Crosse and Sauk Counties. These stakeholders looked for ways to better support people with lived experience and address challenges in the service systems specific to their communities. It was also during this first job as a Certified Peer Specialist that I began diving into continuing education opportunities. In the years I have maintained my certification, continuing education has been a primary source of professional support and development.

In 2015, with both informal and professional peer support experience as well as the positive influence of trainings such as Intentional Peer Support, I began facilitating Certified Peer Specialist trainings around Wisconsin.  This experience facilitating CPS trainings between 2015-2016 helps me in my role today supporting current trainers in Wisconsin.

After my time with GEP, I began working at Solstice House Peer-Run Respite in Madison. I started as a third-shift peer specialist and quickly developed new skill-sets for supporting people more “in the thick of it.” Within a year of starting there I moved into the House Manager position, overseeing the peer support taking place in the respite and on the Warmline, coordinating scheduling, and offering on-call support as peer specialists navigated difficult experiences, whether it be interpersonal, logistical, or ethical.

In time, I found myself moving on from my role with Solstice House and moved to Western Massachusetts to serve as a Community Coordinator with the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community. There, I engaged with some of the most impactful work I have done while offering direct support in a peer role. Facilitating Alternatives to Suicide groups, Hearing Voices Network groups, and LGBTQ+ specific support groups taught me new ways to connect with others authentically. Supervising a team of others in peer support roles taught me about the need for supervision rooted in and consistent with peer support values. I also developed a deepened understanding of the peer principle of mutuality and how the struggle against various forms of marginalization and oppression can support us in our work as we build genuine human relationships and connect with others in times of struggle as well as times of joy. Though I learned so much from my time in Massachusetts and formed connections I value greatly still today, life had a way of bringing me back to Wisconsin.

My Work With the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative

In August of 2019, I began working with Access to Independence and the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. Since starting in my role as the Peer Specialist Program Communications Assistant, I have grown my professional skill-sets in new ways. Some highlights include:

  • Supporting CPS and CPPS trainers throughout the state.
  • Launching and maintaining an updated and much-improved website for the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative.
  • Updating the employer guidance for CPS and CPPS services along with the Peer Specialist Program Manager.
  • Revising the CPS curriculum for Wisconsin alongside Tim, staff from the Department of Health Services, and CPS trainers throughout the state.
  • Revamping our social media presence and strategy.
  • And more…

My ultimate goal is to better support the improvement and expansion of peer specialist services in Wisconsin through developing clear and accessible web content for CPS and CPPS, improving the training of people in peer specialist roles, connecting people with quality professional development and continuing education resources, as well as supporting the formation of a wider network and community of practice of people in peer specialist roles to support and learn from one another.

A Bit More

In my non-work life, I spend most of my time with my family and engaging in political and organizing efforts against oppression and for a more just world. I find nature time to be essential. Walking through woods and being near flowing water is perhaps the most restorative experience for me.

I look forward to sharing more with you all in this blog, as we discuss topics important and helpful for people in peer specialist roles in Wisconsin.

This blog is managed and maintained by staff at Access to Independence working on the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. The words, views, and values presented herein are not necessarily representative of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

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.

Origins in Milwaukee and Beginning Work as a Certified Peer Specialist

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.

Continuing My Professional Journey in Madison

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!