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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.