Katherine was first exposed to what a peer was in 2003 when she was attending Synergy Center for her own recovery purposes. It was here that she was offered a position to run their Drop-In Center. Her success at this job opened opportunities within Synergy’s Clubhouse to work as a peer-support specialist and eventually a para-professional. Running groups on wellness and recovery Katherine shared her own strengths and struggles with substance use and acceptance of a psychiatric label and its medication regime. Her recovery path was not always straight and she did have set backs. Through it all she was able to return to school and obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Community and Human Services at SUNY Empire State College. Katherine also took Tracy Puglisi’s Peer Specialist Training class and it was with this degree and her life experience that she was hired as a Peer Bridger for Mental Health Association and then as a Care Manager for the Association for Mental Health and Wellness. After 2 years as a CM working in the field an opening for Program Coordinator for what was called Eastern Suffolk Peer-Run Recovery Center became available; that was in the Spring of 2016. Katherine and the “Center” have undergone many changes since the conception of the peer-run project. She is happy to say that each day is a new day to make a positive impact on another. She is fortunate to work with a staff of her peers and have a meaningful sense of purpose in her life by working at the RCEast.
New York Certified Peer Specialist
Mokesha Wyche has had a long journey within the Mental Health system. At the age of 10 she started seeing the school psychologist and by the age of 14 she had her first hospitalization. There would be 2 more long-term hospitalizations before returning to high school. She successfully graduated high school as valedictorian. After high school there would be a long string of hospitalizations. Psychiatrist felt there was no hope for her to function in society or even work due to suffering from schizophrenia. She wanted to prove them wrong. She got her first job and was very successful. She then knew she could work and be a productive member of society. She did not give up hope. She wanted to help people within the Mental Health system, especially those who had similar experiences growing up as a child. In 2003 she would take her first peer specialist training through MHA of Suffolk. After 3 months she graduated. But yet she yearned for more. She found an independent college program and enrolled. In 2004 she would retake the peer specialist training and would also graduate with an A.A. in psychology from the college. 2011 would be another defining moment for her. She took Medical Billing and coding classes and would graduate with certificates as a biller and coder and advanced billing and coding practices. 2012 she started working as peer support line operator for the peer support line through MHAW. 2016 really shaped her life. She took the Careers in Recovery and Wellness training. There she learned about herself and what true mutual and intentional peer support was about. She would earn her NYS Provisional certification through the NYPSCB and would go on to be the first person at MHAW to receive her standard NYS certification as a peer specialist, she also landed a job with the Recovery Center East.
New York Certified Peer Specialist- Provisional
Joanne first started struggling with depression after the birth of her first child. She was soon hospitalized and attended Stepping Stones, which was a day program. Three years later, Joanne left Stepping Stones and started attending Synergy Center. In 2006 she was hospitalized once again. In 2008 she was given the unfortunate diagnosis of having cancer. She endured the surgery, chemo, radiation, and internal radiation needed to treat the cancer. It was also during this time that she made sure that she also took care of her depression and kept moving forward. As of today, Joanne has been cancer free for nine years and fully focused on her recovery path with dealing with depression. Joanne has found that working with her peers has been a mutual form of support and in 2010 she secured a peer specialist position with the Association for Mental Health and Wellness formerly called Clubhouse of Suffolk working with the adult home communities. With her successes she tried her hand as a para professional as a Care Manager with the same agency in 2012. Joanne’s love of working with her peers brought her back to her previous position as a peer specialist six months later. It was then that she took Tracy Puglisi’s Careers in Recovery and Wellness Training where she graduated in July 2016. It was then in January 2017 that she officially became a New York Certified Peer Specialist and earned her Provisional Certification through the New York Peer Specialist Certification Board (NYPSCB). During the year of 2017, she would go on to become a Care Manager once again until March 2017. She shortly thereafter transitioned into a position with The Recovery Center East and has been working with the Center ever since. Joanne reports that her own Care Manager was instrumental in presenting the opportunities that were available to Joanne that made Joanne a perfect candidate for job. Joanne also reports that her job is more than a “job”. She sees her work as an extension of her own recovery and has been out of the hospital for six years and counting.
Sr. Deputy Director Roni DeKoning, LMHC, CRC
Direct supervisor of the Recovery Center Program Coordinator.
Ms. DeKoning has been with the organization since 1992 and has unparalleled experience with teaching and supporting consumer-driven, rehabilitation-and-recovery-based practice. Roni has overseen the integration of peers into our agency’s workforce within multiple programs – PROS, care management, prior clubhouse model and IPRT programming, and many of the peer-operated programs noted above. She worked with peer leadership to develop the peer support line. Roni also has particular personal experience and professional expertise in promoting trauma-informed care –the high presence of traumatic experiences is well-documented with respect to people who come into the public behavioral health systems. Roni’s role with the agency and with the Recovery Center East is under the quality assurance and quality improvement practices of the organization. In line with this role, she will ensure the day-to-day operation of the Center, its compliance with contractual and public expectations, clinical risk management and safety, and its fidelity with peer support practice.
New York Certified Peer Specialist
Eva first learned about the concept of peer support from her mother, June (Frederick) Roberts, a disability and human rights advocate. Her personal involvement with it began when she became a peer with The Survivor’s Project of Massachusetts, which was created by and for adult survivors of childhood abuse. She then integrated her knowledge of recovery into her work with youth and as a career counselor. In 2004, she moved back to Long Island to be closer to her mother. By the end of 2007, three losses—that of her mother, her partner, and her dog—catapulted her into the world of complicated grief. Struggling psychologically and financially, she attended a community mental health drop-in program; this led to her work as an Assistant Case Manager. Subsequently, she worked for Clubhouse of Suffolk Inc. (now Association for Mental Health and Wellness), first as a Peer Specialist with the Personalized Recovery Oriented Services Program (PROS) and later as a Rehab-Recovery Practitioner with Lived Experience. A multiracial woman—Black, white and Native American—Eva developed and facilitated a psycho-educational PROS class called “Celebrate Diversity” to help create a more inclusive community. After the horrific murder of George Floyd by police, she created a “Black Healing Space” to provide peer support to those who identify as Black, African American, or of the African Diaspora. Eva joined Recovery Center East as a Peer Support Specialist in October of 2020; she received certification as a New York Certified Peer Specialist effective January 1, 2022.
New York Certified Peer Specialist
Kevin Zamora first dealt with a mental health struggle at the age of 18. He was hospitalized at Stony Brook and transferred to the psych unit of Brunswick State Hospital, where he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety, and PTSD with psychotic features. At that time he didn’t know what those diagnoses meant or how they would affect his recovery. In 2014, he joined the Association for Mental Health and Wellness’s Synergy Center in Riverhead. There he met Dennis Skow, Program Director, and his then counselor, Risa. With their help, he embarked on his recovery journey; he also obtained sobriety and quit smoking cigarettes (he has maintained his sobriety to the present day). He later graduated with honors from high school and interned for six months at Recovery Center East (RCE), where he learned how to be a peer. He obtained his standard peer certification and in early 2020 became a full-time Peer Specialist at RCE. Kevin has shown remarkable adaptiveness during the Covid-19 pandemic. His positivity, courage, sense of hope, and compassion provide comfort to his peers. He demonstrates a new way of learning, one that allows for mistakes, and uses his story to encourage those who have remained voiceless. In particular, Kevin helps the peers who self-identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Following his passion for music, he considers the song “Beautiful” to be a self-love letter to those who don’t see themselves as beautiful. He facilitates the widely popular music groups on Saturdays. He continues to develop creative Zoom activities and to help his peers feel part of the RCE family.