Psychiatric Institute, New York City
Congratulations in completing the course work of NYWRAC Peer Advocacy Training. By being here today and receiving your certificate you are standing up among more than 300 graduates that have been through NYWRAC Advocacy Training since 1994.
The Peer Advocacy Training you experienced is the work, vision and dedication of many people. Pat Finneran was hospitalized in a State Psychiatric Hospital. She wanted things different for her and for others who went through similar experiences. Unfortunately, what compelled her were the negative and detrimental conditions she had to go through. With the help of sympathetic employees like John Rock, they created the advocacy coalition which is the roots of NYWRAC Peer Advocacy. Westchester and Rockland County funded this advocacy coalition in conjunction with the creation of Dimensions which is The Empowerment Center’s Peer Support Center in New Rochelle. Together these were the first initiatives of what is today The Empowerment Center.
It took many to create the visions that you have experienced. Elaine Levin was in the first graduating class and has contributed greatly to the development of NYWRAC. She has been instrumental in creating this personal experience for you and for many others who have gone through this training and gone on to advocate in the hospital and in the community. The whole Empowerment Center management team and Board of Directors are always behind the scenes doing whatever it takes to keep the vision alive and strong because each one of us has gone through our own experience and want to give to others.
Many people have come before us and will come after us. As part of the conception of The Empowerment Center and always finding ways to be active in its mission, I have learned a lot from people before me and around me. You now possess the knowledge and potentially have the energy. I hope to have the opportunity to learn from you. As graduates you are part of the vision that created Peer Advocates and have the potential to be part of the growing vision and work that is before each one of us.
NYWRAC Advocacy Training is conducted by The Empowerment Center whose mission as a grassroots organization is to provide mutual support for recovery though advocacy, education and the establishment of healing environments by creating community, promoting individual responsibility, and protecting rights and dignity. As a graduation class you have created your own community and are also part of this larger grassroots organization of TEC.
Until today I have not had a chance to meet you. For many years I have had the opportunity to be part of at least one session of many Peer Advocate Trainings. Unfortunately, for you I did not have this chance. So I cannot address you today with the knowledge of knowing you through individual conversations with you from before today. But I believe that I still can say that each one of you is leaving this room today having gained some personal accomplishment.
But I believe also that you will be walking away with something else, new communities. The community is the one you have created with each other. The community is also The Circle of Support of The Empowerment Center. And so is the advocacy and activist organization of The Mental Patient Liberation Alliance that is partnered with The Empowerment Center in the statewide Alliance Empowerment Coalition. And more: the new Transformation Coalition is composed of groups coming together like you and me to create change on the grassroots level. This New York City graduating class is the first class to emerge from it. But ultimately, it is the connection of the community that is right outside of your door.
I’m sure that as you find your place in these communities our paths will meet and I hope to have a chance to learn and find inspiration from you. You are part of many important communities and as part of them you can hold your head up high.
The certificate you receive today testifies that you now have the understanding of what it means to be a Peer Advocate. The seed has been planted for you to be a Peer Advocate.
A Peer Advocate is someone who has personal experience that enriches what he or she can contribute to others. Because of these personal experiences you take the time to connect to yourself and others. You find ways that your experiences enhance the understanding. And listen. And share in a way that is understanding. You offer what you can deliver, because it comes from your heart. You know how to advocate for yourself, and can reach out to others for yourself and others. You know what it will take, for you.
With your personal accomplishment you have the opportunity to take what you have learned and use it in many different ways. You have many choices and this advocacy training has opened opportunities.
You chose to take this training and stay with it. You found your own way to participate. You explored ideas and found some that were valuable to you. You took responsibility in your attendance and ways you interacted. You have my respect for all you have accomplished. And you can go forward from here with new gains and new opportunities because of it.
It will be up to you in each fork of life to choose your path. To choose: whether or not you actively decide, how you interact with others, and how you understand how others interact with you, how you choose to live you life and what the quality of it will be. The choice is yours.
Because of the accomplishment of past graduates and others in this grassroots movement our deepest challenge, in fact, is the establishing of healing environments. Many advocates have come to fight and others are coming to heal.
Historically, peer advocates have had to fight negative and detrimental conditions. We fight stigma, misinformation and lack of it. We fight for rights, and dignity. We have done it when we were excluded and made our demands in extreme ways.
We are beginning to see changes. We are being invited to participate at the table. Now is our chance to create changes in a different way. We need to use the fight in us to continue with the challenges but use the insight we have gained to forge a path not in war, them against us, but in finding ways to create what we all want, rights, dignity and choice, so that we can have our chance to find our own way to make our contribution in health and friendship. The need to advocate surrounds each one of us in finding ways to live healing lives.
In conclusion, I challenge you to take personal responsibility, to educate yourself, to establish an environment for yourself, one that is healing, to be part of a community, one that promotes personal responsibility that also strives to preserve the dignity of all. And if you choose to advocate for others, I challenge you to advocate and educate in such a way that establishes healing environments, creates community while promoting individual responsibility and protects the rights and dignity for all.