Peer Coordinator Spotlight – Erica
Meet Our New Peer Coordinator, Erica!
Please join us in welcoming our newest Peer Coordinator, Erica, who came to The NAN Project four months ago. They have stepped right in to connect with students in the classroom and have begun shaping a new project with local colleges!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up outside of Washington DC, went to school in Cleveland, and then moved to the Boston area. I’ve been here ever since and love it! I’ve been playing ultimate Frisbee for a while, it’s a big passion of mine. I also like learning new recipes, looking after my many houseplants, and playing with my cat, Julep.
Does the Peer Coordinator position at The NAN Project fit into your personal goals?
I always knew I wanted to work face-to-face with people in a helping role. What better way to do that than to share my mental health journey with others to make them feel less alone, and perhaps get people to seek help earlier? It gives me hope to hear the way students speak about mental health in the classroom. I think that self-awareness, especially when practiced at a younger age, gives people a greater chance of leading healthy and balanced lives.
What strategies do you employ in managing your own mental health?
I love this question because I think it probably changes from year to year as I get to know myself better. Currently what works for me is going to bed on time, leaving time and space for me to feel my feelings, exercising regularly, and talking to my therapist.
What has been notable in your presentations to students in the classroom?
The first thing I notice is that students are much more aware of mental health in general than when I was at their age. There are a lot of student questions wondering what will happen once they ask for help, and worries that reaching out might not help them. We encourage people not to give up, to keep reaching out and fighting for themselves. Everyone is worthy of help, and no one is beyond help. I tell students, “While you might not get exactly what you need right away, help is out there for you.” I think the Comeback Stories we share in schools reflect that learning what you need and how to get it is a process, and does improve over time. Another common theme among student questions is how to help a friend who might be struggling, which is something we do cover in our messaging. It’s encouraging that so many people want to be supportive friends!
How do you like to spend your free time?
I play for a few ultimate Frisbee teams in the Boston area throughout the year. When I’m on the field, I am fully engaged and focused on what I’m doing. It gets me running around outside (in the warmer months), and I get to see old friends and meet new people. I also have an ever-growing houseplant collection–I love watching my plants change throughout the seasons, and learn what they need by paying attention to them.
What do you hope for your future?
I want to learn more about the professional career options in the mental health field, as this is my first time working in the mental health space. Whether I pursue another degree or not, I want to be a support to the communities of which I am a part.
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Alison Sabean
This month, The Nan Project would like to highlight Alison Sabean in our Peer Mentor Spotlight! Alison has been working with us for almost two years now, and her story leaves her audiences with a message of hope. She has presented her story numerous of times to schools all across Massachusetts! Thank you Alison for being apart of this Peer Mentor Spotlight!
Hi Alison! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I was wondering if I could start off by asking you how you heard about The NAN Project, and what made you join!
Hi Elli! Thank you for interviewing me! I heard about The NAN Project when I participated in a young adult program through The Department of Mental Health called GIFT. It stands for Gathering Inspiring Future Talent. Through that program, we all had a common theme of having past histories with mental health challenges that want to get back into the workforce. GIFT had a partnership with The NAN Project, so that’s where I heard about it, and the rest is history!
I decided to join because I was really struggling to hold a job and I felt like this was something that I was meant to do. I am really passionate about telling my mental health story; being able to do it AND get paid is a dream come true!
What have been some highlights/rewards you’ve gained working with us?
One of my biggest highlights was definitely speaking at the Night For NAN. I was really flattered to be asked to speak after working only less than a year with the project. I think it really speaks to me feeling accepted by The NAN Project, and it was a feeling I never felt with any other job.
I think another thing is a highlight is just presentations in general and really getting deep and speaking to the students, talking with faculty, and being able to educate people. I also like being able to meet some really cool people through working at this job.
What was your most meaningful presentation and why?
Definitely speaking at the Night For NAN and specifically because it was an opportunity I’ve never had before. I found it really meaningful to speak to a room full of almost complete strangers, considering there were so many folks who attended the Night For NAN. It boosted my self esteem as well. Also, the Night For NAN is such a meaningful event for The NAN Project, so it felt really good to be chosen to speak at a night dedicated to the project.
For readers who don’t know your story, what are some coping skills you’ve learned over the years to take care and overcome your mental health challenges?
There have been a lot of different coping skills I’ve learned over the years and I use different skills for different situations. I think my main coping skills that I use are playing with my cat, expressing myself by doing art, writing/journaling, and physical activity when I can. I also consider coping and taking care of myself by taking my medication on time, going to regular doctor appointments and therapy, and making sure to keep up with all my requirements.
What are you grateful for?
I am definitely grateful for The NAN Project for giving me a way to be employed. I am also grateful for my family and friends for being supportive throughout my mental health journey and now my physical health issues. I am also grateful for my cat Iris. In 2020 I started my masters degree in social work, so I am grateful to be able to be a part of their program at Boston College.
I know you talk a lot about your cat Iris, can you talk a little bit about her and why she’s so important to you?
Yeah! So I had a cat since I was in the third grade and he lived until he was 19 years old which is pretty impressive. We had to put him down and I was pretty devastated over it. I was really heartbroken after we put him down, so I kept begging my parents to let me get another cat and they finally caved! My cat, Iris is such a joy. It’s kind of interesting how animals react to mental health situations. I know she needed me just as much as I needed her. We are inseparable, to the point where she follows me everywhere around the house! She’s a cutie and I love her so much!
Aw I love that! Iris seems like such a great companion to have! The last question I have is: do you have any advice for students who may be struggling, especially during this crazy time during COVID.
I’d say that if you’re struggling, definitely reach out to someone. Whoever it may be, make sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with. Keep up hope that things will get better. There have been a lot of times where I’ve lost hope and something good can come my way. I also think that if you are in therapy or getting help in some way for a mental health issue, don’t give up. Just remember that you can do this and there’s so much more life to live than struggling with your mental health challenges. Maybe you won’t overcome it, but you will learn how to manage it, and live with it.
Thank you Alison for having this interview with me! I loved hearing a little bit about your life and how much you’ve overcome over the years.
Thank you so much Elli for interviewing me!
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Margaret Parkhurst
This month, The Nan Project would like to highlight Margaret Parkhurst in our Peer Mentor Spotlight! Margaret has been working with us for over a year now, and her story leaves her audiences with a message of hope. She has presented her story numerous of times to schools all across Massachusetts! Thank you Margaret for being apart of this Peer Mentor Spotlight!
1. Hi Margaret! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to interview you for the Peer Mentor spotlight! I want to start off by asking you how you heard about The NAN Project (TNP) and why you decided to apply?
I found out about The NAN Project kind of on my own. I was on an email listing from another organization called “GIFT” and TNP happened to be featured on the bottom of that email. I looked into it and I thought it was a good fit for me. I have had some public speaking experience in the past so I knew I could thrive in it. I especially love to help and inspire others, so I knew this would be exactly what I was looking for to be able to achieve that.
2. Thank you! That was a great answer. It has been over a year now that you’ve been working for TNP! Time flies! What has been your overall experience with us? What have been the challenges or rewards?
I would define it as being incredible! This job came to me at a time when I needed The Nan Project. I was starting to go down a bad path again and I stumbled across this opportunity and it really changed my life and helped me. It reminds me every time I speak that ‘I am okay,’ and that I am strong enough to help others to make sure they’re okay too. I also find this job as a privilege. Unlike other jobs, TNP cares about us. Other jobs don’t care about someone’s mental health but you guys care about our mental health. I specifically appreciate how you guys understand if we’re having a rough day. I’m never obligated to share if I don’t feel ready.
3. For readers who may be unfamiliar with your story, can you highlight some of the coping skills you’ve learned over the years to take care and overcome your mental health challenges?
First of all, I love to ride horses. I have been riding for 20 years now! The specific horse I’m riding currently is very sensitive. She can sense my emotions and if I’m in a bad mood, she senses it and becomes a pain in the butt! I also do acupuncture; I own a dog walking business; I use grounding techniques with nature; and, I have recently started holistic therapy!
4. Wow Margaret! You have so many coping skills in your tool belt! I know in your story you talk about your dog, Chester. Can you tell the readers a little bit about him and why you find him so therapeutic?
I got Chester two days after being in a residential treatment facility for seven months. My parents rewarded me with him. We had got him in hopes that he’d become a service dog for me, but we came to find out he doesn’t like people! He loves me though. He has also caught on to my emotions and has helped stop panic attacks. He also likes to do stupid things or annoy me to get me out of a funk. My family and I joke that he could pass the service dog training if only he liked people!
5. That’s funny! Chester sounds like a very silly dog! Could you tell me what you thought was your most meaningful/ favorite presentation and why?
One school that stuck out to me had a class full of students that didn’t speak English. They had to have a translator come into the class to assist our presentation. It was eye opening to me because even though those students didn’t speak English, they still wanted to engage in the conversation around mental health
6. What do you hope for in the future?
I hope that in the future The Nan Project can reach more schools to be able to start this conversation around mental health. Especially right now, while the world is turned upside down. People who didn’t experience mental health struggles before the pandemic are definitely experiencing some sort of mental health issue now.
7. And lastly, what are you grateful for right now?
I’m grateful for the experience TNP has given me. This job has really helped give meaning to my life. During COVID-19, I have been especially grateful for what TNP has done to keep the Peer Mentors active. They’ve had consistent zoom meetings weekly with the Peer Mentors, and that has been very helpful on my mental health. I am a person who likes structure and COVID-19 took that away from me. When TNP started to do weekly zoom meetings with the Peer Mentors, it made me feel better knowing that I had a priority to do.
Well thank you Margaret for being able to do this Peer Mentor Spotlight with me! It was a pleasure speaking with you!
Thank you Elli for using me as your peer mentor to spotlight!
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Andrew Christopher
This month The NAN Project would like to feature Andrew in our regular PM Spotlight section. Andrew has been with the NAN Project after completing the last Peer Mentor training back in January of 2020. Andrew brings a lot of positivity to The NAN Project as well as some great ideas and lots of unique knowledge.
1). Tell us how you learned about TNP and why you decided to join? How has your time with the NAN Project been ever since you completed the training?
I actually first learned about The NAN Project about four years ago when I was approached by Ellen Dalton when I was working for Eliot Community Human Services at the time in a different role and at the time I actually passed up the opportunity and I’m coming to regret that as it seems like a great organization. So far, my time with The NAN Project has been great, it’s been very rewarding. You get to work with some very nice people and get to do worthwhile work as well.
2). For our readers who haven’t had the chance to hear your story, can you highlight some of the supports you used to overcome your mental health challenges?
Certainly. Growing up I was a kid that had some issues. I was bullied. I have a few learning disabilities. The support systems that really helped me was a school counselor, a therapist and my parents mostly. My counselor advocated for one thing that really helped me – I got to take my tests in another room to limit distractions. They have all been crucial in getting me where I am today.
3). I know you mention your love of sports in your Comeback Story. What is your favorite to play? And what is your favorite to watch?
Hockey has always been my favorite sport both to watch and to play. During this time I’ve actually been watching some old game I’ve never seen. They were there before my time, but still very fun to watch. The Summit Series between the USSR and Canada from the 70’s I found very interesting in particular.
4). You mentioned in your Comeback Story that quitting sports was probably one of the biggest regrets in your life. What made you get into sports and what was the first sport that you did?
It really is one of the bigger regrets in my life I would say. I had always been someone that played sports. I come from a family that was very much into athletics and I grew up playing hockey. I essentially learned to skate as I learned to walk and after that I got into baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse and basketball all at different times. Hockey and lacrosse are definitely the most fun to play though. Sports was a good outlet, where mental health didn’t matter. It wasn’t something that came up on the field, which I liked as a kid.
5). Were there any other jobs that you had in the past prior to working with The NAN Project that was related to Mental Health?
Yes, I actually worked for Eliot Community Human Services as a Peer Specialist in a group home for about five years called The Avenues Home. I got to work with some great kids, and through working with them, learned about myself.
6). What would you say was the most meaningful presentation that you did? And why?
One of the afternoon presentations we did in Methuen High School. I would say we had a very good group of kids that day. They were very active listeners and they had very good questions. I feel like my story related to more than a handful of kids in the room which is always very rewarding, even if you have two kids responding to your story that it’s a win – but it seemed that there seemed to be eight or nine at the time that was a really cool feeling for me.
7). You mention being an avid reader in your Comeback Story. Can you tell us about a book you’ve recently finished, or about your favorite author.
A book I’m currently reading is about a French guy in the first World War called Poilu. It’s his four years of notebooks from serving in the first World War. It’s an interesting read. One of my favorite authors though would be Kurt Vonnegut. I read just about everything he wrote before he passed away. What he wrote was always funny, smart and witty; there are no just not many writers of his quality, I think, with his humor.
8). Lastly, what is one thing that you feel grateful for in your life now?
The health and wellness of my family, especially during this time. I’ve been very thankful during the Covid crisis no one in my family has come down sick or anything. My brother still lives in Brooklyn so we’ve all been very worried about him. So, I’m very thankful for everyone that I know dearly that are healthy at this time.
Thanks for sitting down to chat, Andrew!
To read more Peer Mentor Spotlights, click here!
Nabil Douq- PM Spotlight
Nabil Douq has been a Peer Mentor with The NAN Project since last spring, bringing their creativity and sense of humor to every presentation and coaching day. Social Media Coordinator Tom sat down with Nabil to catch up on almost a year as part of the team!
Thank you Nabil, for doing this interview for the Peer Mentor Spotlight! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello Tom! Thank you for having me! My name is Nabil and I love video games and movies. I love helping out with The NAN Project and giving back in my own way. I also have a crazy cat who is evil, but I love him, and I like to give him hugs.
I know you’re really into video games and a big fan of movies and old films. What made you have an interest in both video games and movies? And what are your favorite video games to play and favorite movie?
I’ve always loved stories when I was little and I would read all the time. I like to see video games and movies as a way to tell a story. When it comes to movies and video games, I don’t like things that are all violence. I like things that prioritize storytelling, character growth, and that you would get from reading, but in a different medium. For example, one of my favorite movies is Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock. I could watch it whenever! I love it. For video games, there is one that really stands out to me – Final Fantasy 9. It’s a classic game, but it’s great!
What a great reason as to why you love movies and video games so much! What made you want to become a Peer Mentor for The NAN Project and how long have you worked for us?
I have been with The NAN Project since June of 2019. Even before my recovery process started, I had always wanted to help people by sharing my story, but I was never in a place where I could do it. This last year was when I was approaching three years in the recovery process, and I was thinking that it was finally the right time. I felt like I was in a place where I could share my story and do what The NAN Project does. I also had some friends that have gone through The NAN Project training and have gone out into schools and I thought that this would be my time to try it and it’s been great.
What has your experience as a Peer Mentor for the NAN Project been like?
It’s been pretty good! When I was a lot younger, I did theater so I am used to sharing, not stuff as personal as this, but going in front of people and speaking. I have never been embarrassed that I have mental health issues and I believe in sharing experiences with people, being open about it and not hiding it. These were two aspects being combined: being in front of people but also being honest and sharing. I’ve really enjoyed it so far.
Can you tell us one experience that really stood out to you while working with The NAN Project?
Yeah, I really enjoyed the Senior Peer Mentor Training we had in the summer of 2019. It was basic activities, but we a mix of different things to do each week. We did a lot of art stuff, DBT, story telling, yoga, and it was really cool to just get a ton of information. It also was a lot of fun!
What are some of your coping strategies that you use to maintain your own wellness?
A big one for me is writing. I write poetry and I write about how I feel. It’s different for me than journaling, but it gets thoughts out and even if I never show it to someone it’s out now and it’s not bottled up. I also really enjoy talking with people. It doesn’t always have to be “therapeutic talk,” but talking about video games and movies it distracts me and that can be helpful too. Movies and books and grounding skills that help me out as well.
Lastly, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future both personally and with The NAN Project?
Well, in terms of The NAN Project, I want to start expanding my work outside of this organization. I don’t want to go away from The NAN Project, I still want to help out in schools and stay connected with them because it’s a great place to work. A personal goal I have is to learn how to drive soon! That’s a big personal goal I have! I want to do it and feel like I’m in a place where I can, because I used to be so afraid of driving. Another goal I have is to just keep continuing in the recovery process. I have learned that being kind to myself and moving forward everyday can be my goal.
Thanks for chatting with us, Nabil!
Greta Waag – PM Spotlight
This month, The NAN Project has featured Greta Waag in our regular PM Spotlight piece. Greta has been with us for almost a year, having joined us after several years as a Peer Specialist at Eliot. She brings experience, confidence and most of all lots of good positive energy to our team (along with a hint of quirkiness!).
Thank you, Greta, for taking the time to do an interview for the PM Spotlight. Tell us a few things about yourself and how long have you been working with The NAN Project?
I’ve been working with The NAN Project for just about one year. I am really motivated to get out in the schools and spread the message that it’s ok to talk about mental health and that there is help and there is hope. I have a strong background in DBT, something I’m really passionate about.
Hobby wise I’m so lame. I go for long walks on the beach (hahaha). I love the ocean I love to sail. I also love to do yoga, that’s a great to ground myself after a stressful week.
I remember that you were a Peer Specialist for Eliot a few years back. We knew each other from the Team Meetings and Peer Outings that we had. What made you get into Peer work back then?
I think peer work was something that I had always had calling for. I bounced around in multiple different jobs and different positions. One working as a mental health counselor with adolescents. Another working at a sober living home for adults. I liked all those jobs, but once I moved into peer work, it became clear that’s where I belonged. I was more comfortable working at the peer to peer level, rather than a hierarchial level (did I just make up that word??) I was able to use my life experience for the better good and to relate to what others are going through. In other jobs, the boundaries were stricter so I wasn’t able to use my experience.
I have a good memory of you bringing that frisbee game where you are on teams and either team tries to get the frisbee in the center of the barrels. How did you find out about that game? And have you known about it for a while?
The frisbee game is called Kan Jam and I saw people play it at the beach. I used to play ultimate frisbee competitively. We travelled nationally. Once I saw this new frisbee I knew I had to have it. It is a great game, because it emphasizes teamwork, which is always fun (giggle). Part strategy and part how you will match well with your partner. The game Kan Jam has strategy and you work together to try and win.
I remember that you were pretty good at Kan Jam and you were very good at explaining how to play it. It’s a good game that gets people to interact. Are there any other outdoor games you like to play?
I love Corn Hole which, a bean bag tossing game. Again, you play with a teammate. I used it as a bonding tool. My dad any I made the two ramps that you need to play the game with on our own. It was a good bonding time with my dad to make the two ramps for that game. It was great to have a common connection. It’s great to interact in a less pressured environment. That was fun. I also like to play Badminton and Bocce Ball. I love games. Being outside, hanging with friends.
I know that you have been with The NAN Project for a little while. How was it adjusting from being a Peer Specialist at Eliot to working with The NAN Project?
I was a Certified Peer Specialist with Eliot for six months. It definitely was an adjustment for me going from checking in with individuals one on one that were on my caseload to presenting to larger groups of students at schools. The good thing is I am able to reach more people with my story through The NAN Project and show that recovery is possible.
I remember back when you were a Peer Specialist for Eliot you always had great positive feedback and good input in the Team meetings. Where would you say this positive energy comes from and what inspires it?
I think my positive energy comes from wanting to make a difference. If I can make a difference in one life than that is worth it. I always wanted to stay positive because I wouldn’t want people to feel alone as I did when I was struggling.
It has been really great to interview you Greta for the PM Spotlight. Thanks so much for doing this interview. Lastly, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future both personally and with The NAN Project?
My hope with The NAN Project is to reach as many young students as possible and breakdown stigma that surrounds mental health. My personal goal is I would like to get back to school and get my Masters Degree in Social Work, so I can continue to help others in their times of struggle.
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Jocelyn Cote-Pedraza
Jocelyn has been working for The NAN Project since last spring, and in the year that she’s been with us, she has grown so much! Jocelyn’s story is one of resilience and determination, of overcoming stereotypes and rising through adversity. I had a chance to sit down with Jocelyn, and chat about life, coping skills, and her work with The NAN Project.
Hi Jocelyn! Thank you for letting me interview you for the PM spotlight!
Hi Elli! Thank you for having me!
No problem! I want to start off by asking you to talk a little bit about yourself, and how did you hear about TNP:
Okay! I am 22 years old and I was born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. I currently work part-time for The NAN Project, and I’m also a rape crisis counselor and a sexual assault advocate. I attend Middlesex Community College, and I am studying business. I heard of The NAN Project through the GIFT training I attended, as The NAN Project and GIFT work very closely. I’ve been working for The NAN Project for a little over a year now, and it’s very important work for me. As a child i felt i was born to be a leader instead of a follower. I enjoy being apart of something bigger than myself and making an impact on others. Since working with human services, I have found my niche.
Wow! You have a lot going on for you right now, I’m glad you’re keeping busy! So now that you’ve worked for The NAN Project for over a year now, what has your overall experience been like with us? Have you had any challenges or rewards?
Yeah, I can start with the challenges. I grew up in a culture where talking about your struggles were frowned upon and mental health was acknowledged but not addressed. I was told to keep everything in private and “what’s said in the house, stays in the house.” For a while I had a hard time expressing my my feelings and emotions, making it hard for me to advocate for myself. I kept everything inside. When joining The NAN Project, I still felt that it was difficult to talk about what my childhood. But with some time, I started to open up and I decided to share more information on my life and struggles. I’m constantly evolving in moving forward with my journey, and I’m starting to feel more confident sharing my newest version of my comeback story. One reward I got from this job was having one student from Medford High School come up to me afterwards to tell me he resonated with my story. He told me he struggled with some of the same things I did, and then he thanked me for sharing. This was really rewarding because I felt that if I could connect with at least one person, then my line of work has been fulfilled.
Wow! That’s amazing how far you’ve come since you started working for us. When you aren’t working, what do you like to do in your free time? What are some things you like to do for fun?
I enjoy doing a lot of things outside of work. For example, I have a passion for working on my own personal cars in my down time.. I’ve turned this hobby into my upcoming business: Pedraza Performance. I also enjoy attending jazz nights, comedy clubs and poetry, as I feel that these activities keep me afloat.
I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.
Like I said earlier, I really like working on cars, even on an “off” day. It’s very therapeutic for me because my mind views it as a puzzle. Each car I would view as challenge: to diagnose, analyze, and further assist the situation. When I’m not working on cars, I also really like to spend some time in the outdoors. I enjoy hiking, biking, and spending time on a lake. Getting outside of the city gives me a break from my busy life. On top of these coping skills, I like to use positive self-talk to remind myself that I got this.
You have very cool coping skills! I have one more question for you. What do you hope for in your future?
I’m currently in the process of pursuing my future. Im attending workshops and seminars to purchase my first home. I’d like to further expand my business and open a dealerships that gives 10% of my profit to a non-profit organization that helps people in recovery because, i know how hard the journey of recovery could be. Asking for help can be the hardest first steps, but acknowledging and validating one’s journey can be life altering for someone who may be struggling.
Thanks Jocelyn, for all of your work with us over the past year, and for sitting down with me today. I can’t wait until Pedraza Performance is up and running!
Sarah Dickie PM Spotlight Interview
Sarah came on board with The NAN Project in February of 2018 after completing a Peer Mentor Training at the TEMPO drop-in center in Framingham. Since then, she’s been crushing it with us! Sarah’s main message is about her struggle with parental abuse, and how that led her to having poor body image issues, and severe anxiety. She has a great message about how beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and how she powered through her struggles. We had the opportunity to sit down with Sarah and ask her a few questions and this is what she had to say!
Hi Sarah! Thank you for coming out to do this!
Thank you so much for interviewing me. I feel honored!
You’re welcome! I want to start off by asking you to briefly talk a little bit about yourself. What do you like to do in your free time?
I’ll first start off and say that I am a senior at Framingham State, and my major is Sociology with a minor in Psychology. I also live in Framingham, with my boyfriend and our big cat named Bunnie. In my free time, I like to draw, journal, find new music, play lots of video games and lastly I am trying to teach myself to play the ukulele… with some success! (laughs)
That’s so cool you’re teaching yourself to play the ukulele! I was wondering what your overall experience has been like working for The NAN Project.
It’s really different from any other job I’ve ever had and I feel like this is actually a really good fit for me. The biggest challenge I face is that I have actually always been really nervous of public speaking, which can make it hard sometimes to step in front of the crowd. I feel like I always have my face in my paper (laughs), but each presentation makes it a little easier to talk in front of a crowd. The reward from this job is that I feel like it’s fulfilling. It’s important for me to be doing this.
I totally agree with you, Sarah. I was excused in high school from all public presentations because it would scare me so much…but look where we are now!
Me too! (chuckles)
What motivates you to keep working with us? What about the job makes it worth coming back?
A couple things makes it worth coming back. It’s really rewarding and important work, like I said before and I really think that’s one reason why I keep doing presentations. We’re making a difference by doing this work and it matters to people. Also, I learn more about myself by writing my comeback story and condensing all that I’ve been through into a cohesive narrative. It put some things into perspective for me and I feel like I know myself better, so that’s also been rewarding as well.
Thanks Sarah, that was a good answer!
Thanks Elli, I say smart things from time to time! (giggles)
I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.
I really do like to journal. I like to write about how I’m feeling and stuff that happens to me throughout my day-to-day life. I like to draw as a distraction to my mind, and I also use breathing exercises. For example, I like to breathe in for three seconds, and exhale for three seconds. I also use grounding a lot and lastly, my cat is a good resource when I’m upset. He probably doesn’t know that, but I really like to sit with him or put my face in his fur; it’s really soothing.
Okay last question: What do you hope for in your future?
A couple things. The first is that I really want to be comfortable with myself. It sounds like a small thing but it’s really hard for me to love myself. I’m working on it, it’s definitely better than it was but I’d really like to say that I genuinely love who I am. I’d also like to have a career in mental health, whether that be mental health education or mental health support. That’s really the direction I want to go. Lastly, I would really like to live in Boston!
Alright! Well thank you Sarah for answering these questions, and good luck!
Thank you Elli!
Jade Turner- Peer Mentor Spotlight
Jade came on board with us in April of this year, and since graduating our training has proved to be a superstar! This 18 year old Boston native tells an amazing story of resilience through her struggles with mental illness, assault, and how she powered through it all to better herself. We had the time to sit down with Jade and ask her a few questions, and here’s what we got…
(laughs) Hi Mike, how are you?
I’m well, thanks. So I wanted to start of this interview by asking you to tell us a little about yourself and how you heard about The NAN Project
Well, I guess you could say that I’m a little quiet, but very enthusiastic. I actually found out about The NAN Project when I tried to attend GIFT (DMH funded Peer Mentor training), but learned that it would be too far of a commute. I was then referred to you guys by Dr. Kim Bisset (who runs GIFT).
It’s been a few months since you’ve started working with us, how do you like it?
I love it, and it makes me feel good inside, you know? After we finish presenting, more times than not the faces of those in the audience are ones of shock. And hearing from those who come forward to speak with you at the end makes me so happy. Often I’m thanked for sharing, and told how brave I am. I’ll quote a past audience member “I can’t believe how well you are doing after all you’ve been through. I can’t believe how strong you are.” This shows (the audience) that if I can make it through my struggles, why couldn’t you?
Even the strongest of people have their off days. What are some resources you use when you are feeling worked up?
A coping skill I use when I am overwhelmed is Box Breathing. Imagine tracing around the four sides of a box, it only takes you one second to get from one corner to the other. You travel around the box and inhale for four seconds, take another trip around for four as you hold your breath, and finally exhale for five seconds. It gives me a short mental break and takes me out of the negative space that I am in. Also, my psychiatrist is a big support, and is amazing to talk to.
So, besides working for us and your other job. What are some things you like to do for fun?
I mainly just hangout with my niece and my friends; we could be doing anything really. Just being with those I care about and simply enjoying their presence sounds like a good time to me.
What would your dream career be?
(Laughs) Wow, that was fast. You seem to have a pretty clear goal set. What makes you want to be a psych nurse?
Because when I was in the hospital the nurses helped me, like very very much. I don’t think that I’d be here without them. I think that having my lived experience would help me as a Psych Nurse connect with those who need support like I did.
Besides being a successful psych nurse, do you have any other plans for the future?
(Smiles) I don’t know, psych nursing is what I’ve been thinking about for the future for some time now. Maybe once I have enough money saved, I could travel to Greece. It’s so pretty! All the pictures you see in social media are just like..wow!
Well, I wish you the best of luck for the future! One last thing before I let you go. You’ve talked in the past about how important music is to you. Can you speak a little on that?
There’s just some songs that get me out of the situation that I am in, and the way the lyrics feel when they pass through my body. I don’t know, it kind of puts me in a new space
Thank you for your time Jade, I’ll talk to you soon!
Thanks Mike, it was good talking to you!
Iyanna “Ziona” Rivera – Peer Mentor Spotlight
For this edition of our Peer Mentor Spotlight, we sat down with Iyanna “Ziona” Rivera, or Z for short, to discuss some of the impressive things she has been up to. Z first came on board with The NAN Project during our training at STEPS in Arlington. Ziona has helped out during school presentations, been an active contributor at our Summer Senior Peer Mentor Training, and has taken a leading role in the newly formed Boston Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition, known more intimately as Boston Youth Together. We had the time to sit down with Ziona and ask her a few questions, and here’s what we got!
So, Z, briefly tell us a little bit about yourself!
Well, I’m Ziona Rivera. I’m first generation American. I’ve been actively in recovery and the peer mentor movement since about 2013 or 2014 when I took a peer specialist training with The Transformation Center. I also published three books – and work as Executive Administrative Manager at Amron International Organization, founded by my mom and geared toward faith based recovery coaching and networking. I now work for The Nan Project where I share my recovery/hope story and provide prevention resources to young people.
You have a lot on your plate!
Yeah, but I don’t just do this stuff for work, or career — but for my recovery. I feel like if I miss out on a group, or a training, or a meeting, I might be missing out on something that can make me a little better… more functional!
How does the peer mentor position at The Nan Project fit into your personal goals? How have you benefited from being a mentor?
I always had this dream of going back to school and rewriting my story. Retelling the true story, not what people thought of me. I now have a story of hope, strength, survival, and resilience. I have benefitted from being a mentor by gaining tools to help others. I learned better ways to communicate about suicide and prevention, I learned about resources available everywhere and I met some great peers. I love working with the Nan Project; it is honestly a dream to be able to do the work we do.
That’s awesome! Through all of this — have you had a mentor?
My mother is my life mentor. I have followed her all throughout my life to her administrative jobs, her college experiences — I almost grew up to do office work! I learned everything I know from her, so now I am her apprentice and personal assistant. She is a reverend and holds an honorary Doctorate. She owns a recovery coaching business and she is also a Harvard graduate and alumni. I was introduced to the peer community and so I introduced my mom to the peer community, and we’ve been working alongside each other ever since!
What strategies do you use to deal with your own mental health?
I like to go to my therapist every week! Sometimes I miss an appointment, but I like to keep consistency in my life by taking my medication at night and going to therapy regularly. I also practice sensory therapy where I use certain scents and fabrics to balance my energy. Staying involved, volunteering, whether it’s at the homeless shelter, the women’s shelter, or through the peer movement keeps me “up.”
What is an example of something you did to help a student or a friend?
I have many friends that I counsel and that counsel me too. I help them in areas like finding and applying for housing, advocating to their support systems, financial budgeting, goal setting, and emotional support. When I’m applying for an apartment, I’ll tell my friends, “Hey — there’s an apartment over here for rent!” They’ll do the same for me, and let me know where I can get clothes for cheap or do my laundry for free!
It sounds like that sense of community is really important to you.
Yes, it really is!
What has your overall experience been like as a peer mentor for the NAN Project (challenges, rewards, etc.)?
The challenge is me being…not mobile. Not having my own vehicle. I can’t really get to everything that I would want to be involved with. That’s the only challenge, but I’m not letting it keep me back!
I have still been gaining the reward of rewriting my story, and being active in my recovery. Telling my story, I heal from it. Every time I tell my story, I learn from it. Things I didn’t notice before, or things I was afraid to share, I can now share and I’m a little stronger. I have benefitted from the few extra trainings since I’ve started with The NAN Project and I feel like I’m changing my past and literally rewriting my story.
The peer relationships, just having peers that have been through stuff and are doing the same thing I’m doing – trying to recover – sharing their stories, providing resources, breaking the stigma. Having that team.- I love it!
What do you hope for your own future?
I hope I can fight stigma in a more hands-on way. I want to team up with my generation, and pick up where the elders in our peer recovery community have left off. I have a lot of dreams, but my biggest is to have my own program to benefit low-income persons with disabilities.
What commitments do you have for the year?
My major commitments for the year involve work with DMH, NAMI’s Greater Boston Community Advocacy Network (GBCAN), The NAN Project, and work with a suicide prevention task force called Boston Youth Together. For now it is a collaboration of the Greater Boston Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition, Samaritans, The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors, and some high school students coming together to do awareness projects. We’re trying to provide resources for mental health, break stigma, provide hope and resiliency directly to the young people of Boston.
That’s great! What are some hobbies you have? What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to write, listen to music. Sometimes I do a little bit of exercise! (laughs) I watch movies, make jewelry, practice tarot cards. A lot of reading. I get to go to different worlds by reading.
What advice do you have for future or soon to be peer mentors?
The advice I have for future mentors is to open their hearts, let their guard down, and share their experience. Be brave! Once you’re comfortable enough to share your story, you’ll learn how much it can help someone else come out of the dark.
Excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Z. Keep up the good work and enjoy the rest of your busy summer!