Artist's Way

How I Became a Peer Support Specialist

by Wenona Gardner

Back in 2006, Waukesha County, WI I began a test pilot program for Peer Support Specialist training. They were offering to pay the Peer Support Specialist students a stipend if they completed the course successfully. I remember living in apartment 507 at Willow Park Apartments, in Waukesha, WI where my window overlooked the mini forest full of trees. My Community Support Program (CSP) worker brought me a flyer announcing the upcoming training. I looked the flyer over and despite the encouragement of my CSP worker Elizabeth, I felt that I was not able to do the class. I feared that my repeated breakdowns had damaged my brain so that I couldn’t be successful in that sort of class. I was uncertain about my ability to perform in a class environment despite having a Bachelor’s degree already. I flat out told her “No! to Peer Support Specialist training.

About a week later, Elizabeth encouraged me to do a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) training for the first day of class. She said I didn’t have to take the 75 hour Meta Recovery course. Just show up the first day for the WRAP plan training, so I reluctantly agreed.

The first day at Spring City Corner Clubhouse for the first day of Peer Support Specialist training featuring the WRAP training, I showed up. I was still not convinced to take the full 75 hour training. I remember the instructor, Carmen Bonanno greeted me. She asked with a sparkle in her eye, “Did you come for the 75 hour course?” I told her “No, I am just here for the WRAP training, today only.” That is when she gave me the most beautiful smile and said “Sign up for the Peer Specialist course and I will help you every step of the way.” With a glow in her eyes that melted my heart, she gave me the words that I needed to hear to sign up for the full 75 hour course.

Ironically, not only did I successfully complete and pass the course including receiving the stipend, I found out I scored the highest score of the class on the final exam. From going from total fear of failure to becoming the leader of the class helped me to believe in myself even though I had a mental illness. From there I went on to have a successful year of employment at Waukesha Mental Health Association as an operator on the Peer Support warm line much like Safe Harbor. Then I recruited to work 6 years with St. Aemilan-Lakeside Recovery Center in Waukesha, WI where I became a Wisconsin State Certified Peer Specialist between 2011-2015. Since moving to Omaha, NE I set my sights on taking the Community Alliance Peer Specialist Training Program and to take the Nebraska State Certified Peer Support Specialist Exam so I can continue my work in Omaha, Nebraska.