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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Peers in recovery help those still struggling regain control of their lives

At the Peer Resource Center open house, left to right: Byron Hall, Jullie Calkin, and peer support specialist Karen Wands Park.

People in recovery are finding the help they need from people who’ve made it through similar challenges and have been trained as peer support specialists.

That’s the premise of the Peer Resource Center, a program operated by the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB)  in the Merrifield Center.

Drawings by members of the center's art club.
Clients who come to the center for help, along with peer support specialists, spoke about the program at the center’s open house March 30.

“There is hope here,” said Sue E., a 34-year-old immigrant from Morocco, who talked about how the Peer Resource Center is helping her deal with overwhelming challenges.

Her life had become unmanageable, she said, after her relationship with her parents deteriorated and she began abusing alcohol, coke, and prescription drugs and got in trouble with the law. She started getting help from a women’s recovery program during a nine-month stay in the Fairfax County jail.

At the Peer Resource Center, Sue said, she “found people who share almost the same stories.” She’s now in therapy, has reconciled with her family, and found a job as a hairstylist, but acknowledges, “I will always be in recovery.”   

Jullie Calkins, a former meth addict with bipolor disorder, moved to Northern Virginia from California six months ago to care for her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. She started coming to the center because she was worried that all the upheaval and stress in her life could trigger a relapse.

She takes advantage of the CSB’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) program, a series of workshops to help people get through difficult times, sees a counselor, takes the center’s art class, and sometimes just comes to the center for coffee and conversation.

Annandale resident Byron Hall, a chef and artist from New Orleans who’s been out of work for more than 10 years due to depression and a back injury from a car crash, is ready to go back to work. He drops in at the center for help with his job search while at the CSB for mental health therapy. 

Community Service Board Director Tisha Deeghan and Peer Resource Center Director CW Tillman.
The center offers a women’s discussion and support group; a men’s peer group; a creative expressions art club, where participants do therapeutic art projects; and a job club where they work on their resumes and learn job search skills. There’s also a Narcotics Anonymous group and individual support sessions. Walk-ins are welcome, too, and people drop in for social interaction and to use the computers to connect with community resources or check their email.

The peer support specialists connect people with the community resources, such as finding mental health services, affordable housing, basis computer skills training. 

“Treatment works; people recover,” said Tisha Deeghan, the executive director of the CSB. It’s the concept of peers helping peers “that makes this all possible,” she said. People who’ve been helped by the center can take an intensive training program and learn how to assist others as peer support specialists.

The seed for the Peer Resource Center was planted by people in recovery, said the center’s director, CW Tillman. The program is a partnership of the CSB, the outpatient staff, and the clients, whom he refers to as “guests.”

Many of the guests have substance abuse issues, mental health challenges, or both, said Tillman, who had struggled with depression for years and had attempted suicide before he gained a sense of hope while recovering in the hospital. He now works with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

About 200 people came to the center during its first month, in October, he said. It served 550 in February, and is on track to serve 700 people in March.  

The peer support staff who’ve had similar experiences can establish an instant connection with the guests, Tillman said. It’s all about “listening and validating,”

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see something positive--folks getting the help they need and then giving back.