Nicole Darr’s Farewell Letter to PPSC Membership and Community

May, 2011

Three years ago, I walked into the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (PMHCA) armed with a printed copy of A Call for Change and a PowerPoint presentation. I entered the PMHCA conference room and said hello to the nine people seated around the table. And then, for my third and final interview for the position of Peer Support Coalition Coordinator, I proceeded to give a presentation called “A Vision for Peer Support in Pennsylvania.”

At that time, in February 2008, the Peer Support Coalition was primarily a dream, a concept. There was a rough plan outlining why a peer support coalition was needed and laying out what that coalition should do. There was a bit of funding from the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. There was a commitment from PMHCA to support development of a coalition. And there was a small interim steering committee—a powerhouse group of people volunteering their time to make the dream of a coalition a reality.

There were also, at that time, only 675 Certified Peer Specialists (CPSs) in Pennsylvania. And of course, countless other peers using peer support skills, but not necessarily formally trained. Peer support wasn’t even available in every county.

There were no formal Peer Support Coalition members, but there was a vision.

There was a vision of unity. A vision that people using peer support skills could be united. A vision of energizing, of organizing, and … acting. A vision of acting to advance peer support in Pennsylvania.

Peer support has come a long way in three years. We are now approaching 2000 Certified Peer Specialists trained. The Coalition has formal members, represented by an elected Steering Committee. And many of the bullet points in my PowerPoint presentation three years ago have been achieved. We have OVR funding for trainings. Peer support is available in every county. More and more CPS’s are supervising programs. We’ve gathered data from the people who’ve been through peer support training to learn how the training has impacted them and what they need to continue their professional growth. There are peer support specialties emerging in Older Adult and Forensics. A civil service classification was created for peer specialists. Peers are finding jobs not just as Certified Peer Specialists, but as peer mentors, as psych rehab workers, as residential counselors, as supervisors, as program managers, as advocates, as trainers, and as peer employment coordinators in the counties.

There is, of course, more work to be done. And while it’s not always easy being trailblazers, we will blaze ahead.

My hope and prayer now, as I leave the position of Peer Support Coalition Coordinator, is that as we blaze ahead, we remember where we came from. That we’ll remember what peer support really is: people with shared life experience supporting each other. Being with each other. Seeing the potential in each other. And encouraging each other to grow and evolve.

That, after all, is the story of our own Coalition. It’s a story of one small idea, one seed of hope – the hope that peer support could blossom in Pennsylvania. It’s the story of how people came together – at first a small group, but then growing, expanding. It’s the story of how all those people -how all of you – have helped shape peer support into what it is today.

Three years ago, I was offered the job of Peer Support Coalition Coordinator – the only paid position with the Pennsylvania Peer Support Coaliton. I was tasked with turning the Peer Support Coalition from a concept on paper into a reality. Three years later, I can confidently say that yes, we are a reality, and we are growing in influence and in numbers. But I can also say that’s true because of you. Because of the people who have worked so tirelessly to advance peer support in Pennsylvania.

I can leave this position now, knowing that the Coalition and peer support will move forward. I know this because for three years, I have worked alongside all of you – the Coalition members and leaders. And you embody peer support in everything you do. You hold hope, support, encourage, and energize. You have taught me a lot in three years. You’ve inspired me with your own stories. You’ve humbled me with your persistence and dedication, working tirelessly to support others even when sometimes, it’s hard. And you’ve taught me about how a group of diverse people, with unique skills and talents, can come together to make great things happen.

Thank you for these three years, for welcoming me as your Coordinator. I look forward now to supporting the Coalition not as Coordinator, but as a member. And as a member, I look forward to seeing what we all – the membership, the people who truly are the Peer Support Coalition – will dream about, envision, and achieve in the coming years.

Written by Nicole Darr, CPS. Nicole was the first Coordinator for the Peer Support Coalition. She is now moving onto the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, where she has accepted the position of Program Manager of ICAN (Involved Consumer Action Network) while she continues to blaze ahead.