Recognizing the value of peers in the community



This month, we are highlighting Peer Evaluator, Alfonso Ruiz’s work to emphasize the transformative effect Peer Evaluation and Support has on both individuals and systems.

In 2015, Alfonso Ruiz started working on the One Community Partnership 2 (OCP2) grant as a Peer Evaluator where he has excelled at a task that might have seemed intimidating at first. He has conducted over 300 interviews and has a reassessment retention rate of 90%. Most recently, he traveled to the University of Maryland, Training Institutes, alongside grant lead evaluator Dr. Rhonda Bohs, to share with other grantees the concrete strategies he employs to engage and retain young people and their families in the evaluation. His presentation focused on what peers bring to the data collection interviews and process as opposed to traditional research assistants who don’t have the lived experience like young people and their families. The team received many accolades and was asked to present at the next National Federation of Families Conference in November 2018.

Alfonso started his journey as a peer in 2005 working at Bayview Mental Health as a full-time Peer Specialist. He explained that this position was a turning point for him as he had recently faced several life changing events. With the support of his case manager and his mentor, he quickly realized that there was space and a growing need for mental health peers in the community. This employment helped him regain his self-esteem, stabilize his situation, and stay healthy. Alfonso’s strength, as for other peer evaluators, is the deep understanding for the need to practice patience, flexibility, and the empathy when assisting people facing mental health challenges. He explains that even as an older adult assisting young people, he can connect with the young people enrolled in the evaluation as well as their families.

He states, “When they look at me, I think it gives them hope that being independent and leading a productive life is possible. I tell them I have a car, a house, a job, and people who care about me. Knowing that I once was like them, struggling with different challenges, they actually feel more comfortable which helps break the ice.”

It is a misconception to believe that people with mental health challenges are more limited. As Alfonso demonstrates, with patience and assistance, people living with mental health challenges can accomplish a lot and exceed expectations.

Alfonso add, “I am always looking for ways to expand opportunities for people with mental illness by advocating for volunteer opportunities, employment, trying to encourage people with mental illness to try to gain a foothold in the workplace by first working in the peer specialist field if they are unable to find employment opportunities elsewhere. Working in the peer specialist field reduces the worry and anxiety many of us have about having to hide our mental health diagnosis.”

To join the peer movement, reach out to South Florida Wellness Network and call 954-533-0585.