Sunday, December 11, 2016

Everything You Need to Know About the 10th Annual NYC Conference for Working Peer Specialists

Everything You Need to Know About the 10th Annual NYC Conference for Working Peer Specialists
By Gita Enders, MA, CPRP, NYC Health + Hospitals and Jonathan P. Edwards, LMSW, ACSW, M.Phil., NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene

Hearts and Minds Fulfilled Like Never Before

The 10th Annual NYC Conference for Working Peer Specialists, aptly branded “Then, Now, WOW!” was held on July 14, 2016, at New York University’s Kimmel Center. Nearly 300 individuals who identify themselves by a host of titles that contain the word peer attended this event, bringing greater visibility to NYC’s peer specialist workforce. 

Every successful event begins at the door! We would like to acknowledge Deborah Short, Pat Feinberg, Rachel Salomon, and Margie Staker for their graciousness and efficiency in greeting and registering participants, presenters, invited guests, and exhibitors.

An enthusiastic group of Howie-the-Harp trainee volunteers under the direction of Lynnae Brown provided a solid foundation for the conference, assisting with everything from early registration to prepping the resource room and providing invaluable assistance throughout the day’s program. As people gathered near the breakfast tables they were provided with conference programs, lunch and raffle tickets, as well as a commemorative “Conference Players” keepsake booklet, created by Jonathan Edwards, containing photographs and biographies celebrating ten years of speakers and attendees. The booklet also acknowledged the efforts of the conference planning committee: Teena Brooks, Celia Brown, Lynnae Brown, Jonathan Edwards, Gita Enders, Sara Goodman, Larry Hochwald, Yumiko Ikuta, Desiree Moore, Digna Quinones, Deborah Short, Ellen Stoller, Carlton Whitmore, and Moneer Zarou. Moneer, who supplied a video performance for the opening program, also received an award in recognition of his tremendous support and creative contributions to the committee and to the conference.

The conference opened with the Lavender Light Choir singing “Seasons of Love,” from the musical “Rent,” which asks what is the proper way to measure the value of “a year in a life.” We chose it to open our 10th anniversary conference as a way to honor the passage of time, what we have achieved as a group, and what all peers have achieved in their lives. The chorus says that the most effective way is to measure in love. When Lavender Light was formed in 1985, it was the only lesbian and gay gospel choir in the world; they strive to offer strength, peace, and hope to their members and to their audiences, similar to messages of hope shared by peer specialists.

Following welcoming remarks by Celia Brown, Regional Advocacy Specialist, New York City Field Office of the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH), Carlton Whitmore, Director, Office of Consumer Affairs, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), OMH Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan, M.D., Myla Harrison, ?Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Mental Health, DOHMH and Lynn Videka, Ph.D., Dean of the NYU Silver School of Social Work, a lively panel discussion, moderated by Peter Ashenden, Director of Consumer and Family Affairs for Optum Behavioral Solutions, set the tone for a hugely successful event. Panelists Celia Brown, Laverne Miller, Leslie Nelson, and Dr. Peter Stastny shared their histories as agents of change and talked about their visions for the future of peer specialists and peer services.

Each year the resource room, overseen by Yumiko Ikuta, attracts more and more attendees as our dedicated exhibitors provide useful information on job opportunities, educational, vocational, advocacy and health care options. In addition, wellness activities such as chair massage and Reiki were provided throughout the entire day. The resource room has grown in popularity from a “clearinghouse” for information to a lively meeting place where people reunite, network, and gather resources. This year was particularly exciting with the new addition of several managed care and behavioral health organizations including Beacon Health Options, Optum and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield.

We acknowledge and extend our gratitude to our community partners and stakeholders: Academy of Peer Services; Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State (ASAP); Baltic Street AEH, Inc.; Beacon Health Options; City Voices; Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery; Community Access, Inc.; Howie the Harp Advocacy Center; Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield; Health Plus; Hearing Voices NYC; Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services; Mental Health Empowerment Project; Mental Health Association of Westchester; NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Office of Consumer Affairs; NYS Peer Specialist Certification Board; NYS Office of Mental Health, NYC Field Office Office of Consumer Affairs; and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan. 

Workshops and Activities
Our morning lineup addressed such topics as Medicaid Managed Care, Health Homes, supervision, and career development, while also exploring current issues involving suicide, trauma-informed care and advocacy, as well as the role of peers. The morning saw participants hard at work as they experienced interactive breakout sessions and activities. As a testament to the conference as a whole, the afternoon workshops did not wane in comparison to earlier workshops and activities that set the stage for the day. Knowledge, inspiration, tools, skills, and creative expressions were as abundant as they had been in the morning workshops.

A selection of hearty box lunches was followed by a comedy program directed by David Granirer of “Stand Up For Mental Health,” which teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental illness as a way of building self-esteem and fighting public stigma. More about David and his exciting programs can be found at Comedians included Angela Cerio, Jonathan Edwards, Gita Enders, Sara Goodman, Jeff McQueen, Digna Quinones, Laurie Vite, and Dennis Whetsel.

Raffles were held throughout the day, offering terrific prizes such as books donated by Darby Penney and Mary Ellen Copeland, and other products and tools, including candles and incense, promoting wellness and job readiness, and a lucky few were the winners of Galaxy tablets and a fitbit device designed to keep track of fitness goals such as walking and heart-rate.

The day, much too soon, culminated in a reception that boasted colorful vegetable platters, bowls of creamy hummus, sinfully delicious chocolate brownie squares, and an assortment of chilled beverages. In these final moments, participants, still energized by who they saw, what they contributed, and what they learned, moved swiftly through the narrow reception space, completing evaluations, exchanging contact information, snapping final pictures, and languishing in the feeling of accomplishment. Yes, this was our 10th year of working and growing together, building the peer specialist profession, and creating many ways to share a message of hope. Above the Washington Square arch the sun faded from bright yellow to amber. We were transformed. Hearts and minds fulfilled like never before, yet already looking forward to our next conference on July 13th, 2017. So please save the date!

Grateful thanks and acknowledgments are made to sponsoring agencies: New York State Office of Mental Health; New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; NYC Health + Hospitals, Office of Behavioral Health; Community Access, Howie the Harp Advocacy Center; Baltic Street AEH, Inc.; The Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies; YOUTH POWER!; NYAPRS; and Advocacy Consultation Services.

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