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Passion for Peer Support

by | May 7, 2020

Tribute to Chester Bennington of American Rock band Linkin Park where fan wrote RIP Chester in white tribute board

“The flyer I got from that City of Toronto worker changed my life” says Jennille Seedial, now a full time staff member and peer support worker at Stella’s Place.

She is referring to an application for the Stella’s Place Peer Support Training Program as part of the larger, city-wide Community Healing Project. “I couldn’t believe that having lived experience was a requirement, that they wanted participants who had experienced trauma,” Jennille elaborates. That was about two years ago.

The Community Healing Project, part of the City of Toronto’s Youth Equity Strategy, is a culturally specific response to the root causes of youth gang involvement.

Stella’s Place Peer Support Training Programs helps young adults to build capacity, protective factors, coping skills, and resiliency. Participants learn how to better understand and respond to trauma, suicide, gun and gang violence, mental health challenges and triggering situations.

CHP graduation photo from when Jennille graduated the program in 2018

Youth in vulnerable communities have fewer opportunities. Peers can offer the skills needed to navigate the employment, education, and social disparities that they face. This program gives young people tools to manage adversity from a new perspective; a perspective that can reduce the impact of traumatic events on their lives and give them the strength and confidence to achieve educational and occupational goals.  

Jennille describes her participation in the program as “transformational”. “It taught me so much about myself!” She learned that her story was important and that she could use her own lived experience to help others. And she discovered that this was her passion, especially with a view to early intervention and support:

“I didn’t have a mentor growing up and I’d love for the next generation to have mentors—have a support team, have a holistic approach to dealing with anxiety and stress so that folks don’t end up going to the emergency room or not understanding why they are so stressed out.”

Taken at a Panel on Peer Support from early 2020. Left to right: Zannalyn, Asante and Jennille

After completing the six-months training program, Jennille was hired by the Community Healing Project as a Youth Peer Mentor Coordinator where her role involved mentoring the next cohort of “Healers” and supporting four communities in the west end. At the same time, a therapy spot became available for her in Stella’s Place’s DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) Program. “It was really helping me,” says Jennille, “It allowed me to hone in on some of the things I didn’t understand about myself, skills I wish I had learned and known all my life, perspectives I hadn’t heard before.” 

The way Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is delivered at Stella’s Place is through an integrated peer and clinical team. Having a peer supporter in the room during the group work was critical and opened up a new career path for Jennille.

“I don’t think I would have made it through DBT in the same way and with the same impact without a peer supporter there, which is why I’m so passionate about being a peer supporter.”

Peer Supporters bring authenticity to the group and are instrumental in bridging ‘skills teaching’ with real life experiences. Having ‘been there’ themselves, a peer supporter can listen and respond from a place of true understanding: By having enough healing and distance from their own crises, they can communicate hope and optimism. 

Taken at the Frayme Conference from early 2020. Left to right: Jennille, Jenny and Miriam

A couple of weeks after completing the program herself, Jennille was hired as a full time staff member. She is now providing peer support in our DBT programs, running the peer-led DBT Refresh group and providing one-on-one support on our secure mobile chat application, BeanBagChat.

“I’m proud of getting here!” says Jennille. “I remember being in those dark places in my earlier twenties and thinking ‘I’m never going to get to 30.’ I’m so grateful for these mental health supports. All these individual people who made such an impact on my life and who allowed me to get here and flourish and thrive!”

Since the lockdown under COVID-19 started seven weeks ago, demand for our secure mobile chat application, BeanBagChat has tripled. We responded by greatly expanding service hours and hiring more staff to provide chat support. We are able to support young people remotely during this crisis because of our experience and comfort level with innovative technology. Demand for our clinical and counselling services has also seen a substantial increase and our Peer Support Training Program is being delivered virtually for the first time as well. And while participants miss the face-to-face instruction and interactions, here’s what one training participant had to say:

“I honestly love the space CHP [Community Healing Project] provides, it’s been an amazing experience and I’m thankful to have been a part of it so far. The virtual shift works…but I preferred the in person sessions […] But on a brighter note the sense of community is still there! Everyone is so full of love and energy and are happy to attend even virtually. The staff are all wonderful because they touch base with you regardless of distance over messages or calls. All in all, I can see the effort you all put into the workshops to make it work despite the circumstances and I appreciate the work you all do”

– Peer Support Training Participant

With your help and the extraordinary matching gift from the Aubrey & Marla Dan Foundation we can meet the need now and beyond the immediate crisis of COVID-19. Let’s help our young people with generosity and care!

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