For the last five years, the Pool of Consumer Champions hosts their annual conference.  Every year PEERS closes their office to attend the conference. The 5th Annual POCC Conference was the first I had the opportunity of attending. I walked in on the morning of the first day, not really knowing what to expect, but very interested to take part in this event that everyone had been so excited about for the last few months. I must say: POCC really knows how to host a conference.

Along with holding elections for the newest POCC committee members and honoring POCC members with awards for their accomplishments in the community, the conference was packed with speakers of Consumer Champions who shared their experiences with mental health, offering wisdom and encouragement for everyone present to continue the work of advocacy and social change in the mental health community. Paolo del Vecchio, Director for the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was the day one keynote speaker, and after listening to his story I immediately knew what the POCC Conference was all about. His speech gave powerful imagery of how POCC came to stand by the words “Nothing about us without us,” as he shared his personal story of recovering from his adolescent years of stigma, bullying, social exclusion, and, as he so perfectly called it, “early intervention gone wrong.” He ended his speech by emphasizing how critical the peer movement, saying “When you’re a champion of health, everyone wins. Recovery is possible,” empowering everyone present with the comfort that we are loved, and we are not alone.

After hearing Paolo speak, I was so moved by knowing I was a part of such an amazing community of people who make the choice every day to use their story to help others. I’m a part of a community that refuses to stand by when those around them are in need of support, rather, they stand strong on the belief that “People don’t recover alone or in isolation, but in community,” – more words of wisdom from Paolo. Having this newly discovered sense of pride for what our community stands for, I was moved to tears when PEERS was honored twice during the POCC Awards;  the first going to our Executive Director, Haydée Cuza, for the Consumer Run Organization Employee of the Year Award, and the second honoring SAGA, founded by our outreach coordinator, Kozi Arrington, with the LGBTQI2-S Advocate Award.

Even on Day Two at the Conference, PEERS represented in a major way with two of our workshops being showcased. Bre Williams, a PEERS Program Coordinator II, led a presentation titled “Peer-led Programs and Trainings,” where participants received insights about the benefits of developing  a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) to use to help cope through distress and troubling feelings, highlighting the PEERS WRAP program.  And again, Mr. Arrington led a “Healing Through Music & Journaling” presentation with PEERS’ Program Coordinator, Lyndsey Ellis. Kozi and Lyndsey’s presentation empowered participants with tools to reduce depression, stress, anxiety, and even lower blood pressure though the powerful tools of journaling and music.

Leaving the POCC 5th Annual Conference, I found myself continually amazed by the work done by such caring and humble people. Every person at the Conference had a story to share, and a common goal to continue the progress of empowerment and stigma reduction, but not one person took personal credit for the work being accomplished in the mental health community – even when being honored with an award. Why wouldn’t one want to be a part of such a diverse community, filled with hundreds of compassionate people on the move to build a better future for the generations under them to live fuller, happier lives, free of shame and stigma?

For more information on the Pool of Consumer Champions, visit the POCC website at http://pocc.org/ or the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services website at www.acbhcs.org. To inquire on more information for WRAP presentations, please contact Bre Williams by emailing bwilliams@peersnet.org . If you would like more information on bringing a Healing Through Music and Journaling presentation to your program, please contact Kozi Arrington by emailing karrington@peersnet.org.