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  • The value of listening

    ‘It warms my heart every time we graduate a class’

    Tom Durkin

    Nevada City Advocate 


    “Some people strengthen society just by being the kind of people they are”.

    John W. Gardner, 

    Secretary of Health, Education
    and Welfare, 1965-68

    Robert Cannon, Walter Carter, Phyllis Day, Morgana Hoch, Allen Mosley, Carla Wade donned bright blue graduation gowns and mortarboards the morning of April 19. 

    After waiting in a cramped, windowless conference room for almost an hour, they paraded into the sunlit New Directions Room at Nevada County Behavioral Health where they took their places at a larger table.

    Family, friends and well-wishers packed the room. 

    The air was filled with speeches, words of praise and congratulations. Diplomas and hugs were bestowed upon the graduates.

    The climax came when they threw their mortarboards as high as the low ceiling would allow.

    These six graduates are the latest alumni of the Nevada County Behavioral Health Peer Support Training Program.

    Since 2008, 80 people have graduated from the training program, said Sue Haddon, who has been teaching the program since 2008 with her assistant, Jane Taylor.

    “It warms my heart every time we graduate a class,” Haddon said.

    One of the main purposes of the training program is to teach high-functioning mental health clients how to assist other clients.

    “It really helps a distressed client to talk to somebody who totally gets it,” Haddon explained.

    Peer support counselors are taught critical skills like active listening, being nonjudgmental, respecting confidentiality, giving information instead of advice and knowing when to bring in professional help.

    That’s why the Turning Point Respite Center has hired nine graduates and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital has four graduates on staff at its Crisis Stabilization Unit, Haddon said.

    “There are job opportunities,” she affirmed.

    Not all peer support graduates intend to pursue social work, and not all graduates are mental health clients, Haddon revealed. “Anyone and everyone” is welcome to take the class, she said.

    Class size, however, is limited to 10, Haddon stipulated. “I like to keep it intimate.”

    Peer counseling techniques are invaluable life skills that anyone can use,” she insisted. “So many people are not good listeners.”

    “One of the guys, Allen, said to me, ‘My son’s going through a really hard time and I’ve learned to be a good listener, and that’s what he needs,’ “ Haddon said. 

    Mosley said the peer support class has “evolved me into something I never thought I could be. I never thought I had the strength to be the person I am now.”

    New graduate Morgana Hoch said she intends to get nationally certified as an emergency medical technician so she can be both a medical and mental health first responder.

    “The training’s helped me become more open-minded and less judgmental,” she said. “It’s made things more about the other person than me.”

    Carla Wade, another graduate, hopes to work at SPIRIT Peer Empowerment Center or with children at Behavioral Health. “It’s been a great class. I never missed a day,” she said.

    Robert Cannon also said listening was one of the most important things he learned – and never to give advice. He hopes to land a job with Turning Point Respite Center.

    Phyllis Day said she was inspired to join the program by a former graduate. She is a volunteer at SPIRIT and is also taking training from Anew Day.

    Walter Carter said he used the peer training for his own personal growth. Although he’s pursuing other kinds of work, he noted the skills he learned will be useful “anywhere in your life where you run into people.”

    Peer Support Training is a year-round program, and classes can last anywhere from eight to 11 months.

    “I just pace it as fast or as slow as folks want it to go,” Haddon explained. “The last class was 11 months, because they didn’t want it to end.”

    Class meets 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday. In addition to mental health, Haddon emphasizes healthy eating and exercise. “We walk a mile each class,” she said.

    To reserve a space for the next training, call Sue Haddon at 530-470-2743.

    Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada County. Contact him at tdurkin@vfr.net or visit tomdurkin-writer.net.

    About the photo:   

    The newest class of peer support graduates toss their mortarboards to celebrate their graduation in April. From left, Walter Carter, Robert Cannon, Phyllis Day, Morgana Hoch, Allen Mosley and Carla Wade.

    Photo by Tom Durkin

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