Summit aims to train peers so they can help their communities

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon was home to the first P.E.E.R. Summit in West Virginia July 6 and 7. P.E.E.R. stands for People Empowered by Experience and Resilience. Coordinator of the West Virginia Leadership Academy J.K. McAtee said he wants the summit to form an organized coalition of peers statewide.

“My vision for the summit is to establish a coalition of peers statewide that could collaborate for educational and support needs and also have some representation,” McAtee said.

P.E.E.R. represents a field that helps people with any kind of mental health trauma by introducing them to someone who has had similar experiences. Membership coordinator of the Copeland Center Rachelle Weiss said sharing similar experiences can give someone the support they need.

Weiss said, “It’s evident that if you meet someone else who’s gone through the same thing, they can really support you and show that you really can have a full, meaningful, purposeful life.”

The summit took place at The Living Word of God Church where Celebrate Recovery calls home. Matthew Federici, the executive director of the Copeland Center, said there were a lot of people at the summit who already help their communities and that they would now have a greater network base.

“There are a lot of people here who have been working very hard in their communities,” Federici said. “They are starting to network and connect and I think that’s where the synergy is going to pick up.”

McAtee said it is important to spread P.E.E.R. throughout the state because of its proven success rate.

“The main advantage that peers have is a proven long term history of success that is less expensive to provide to people who seek help,” McAtee said. “We’ve been there and we’ve done that so it makes us more credible with the people seeking help.”

One of the programs at the summit featured Amy Gamble, who was an Olympian in 1988 and shared her experiences living with bipolar disorder and the process she underwent to accomplish her goals.  

Another program centered on veterans and featured Elvin Campbell, who is a disabled veteran that serves as a Veteran Service Officer at the American Red Cross.

The summit was the first of its kind in West Virginia where people from across the state gathered together to learn about P.E.E.R. and Federici said the effectiveness of P.E.E.R. can no longer be ignored.

“Right now we are at a place nationally where the evidence base of the effectiveness of peer to peer delivered support in mental health is so surmounting that we can’t continue to ignore making this a part of the formal help that is out there for people,” Federici said.

The summit was supported by multiple organizations sponsoring the use of P.E.E.R. such as the Copeland Center’s Doors to Wellbeing, the Opportunity House and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 

More In Local News