News /POCC holds first annual training and awards banquet
Five years after its founding, the Alameda County Pool of Consumer Champions honored individuals who have done exceptional work to promote the well-being of mental health consumers in the community.
Held on June 26 at the Cal Endowment, the day began with the recognition of Jay Mahler, a 40-year veteran and pioneer of the consumer rights movement. Mahler, who was instrumental in the creation of the POCC and other programs to foster social inclusion in Alameda County, reflected how things have changed for consumers over the past four decades.
"For most of the last decade, it was believed that people with major mental health issues could not recover — that you got progressively worse over time and that the main thing you could do was stabilize people on medications and keep them out of the hospital," Mahler said. "We know that people can recover and in 2004, 110 experts from throughout the country — including consumers, family members, professionals, and researchers — got together and came up with the 10 key values and components of recovery."
Those values, which have been implemented by the POCC, include self-direction, individualized, person-centered, empowerment, holistic, non-linear, strength-based, peer support, respect, responsibility, and hope, according to Mahler.
But most of all, Mahler encouraged attendees — many of whom had been mistreated by the system — to forgive and look to the future for the best chance of recovery.
"To err is human, to forgive divine," Mahler said. "I make a tremendous amount of mistakes. We are all human beings; we need to forgive and forget mistakes and focus on the positive."
He also reflected on his time as the Consumer Relations Manager for Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, a position he has held since 2006.
"Before I took the job, I read the community services and supports plan as part of the Mental Health Services Act," Mahler said. "As I read it, I realized that not one penny went to consumer-run programs. I had been involved at the state level; I knew that funds were supposed to go consumer-run programs, so it was upsetting to start this job and know we weren’t successful."
Instead of agonizing, that realization motivated Mahler to act.
"I asked myself, 'What went wrong?'" Mahler said. "The main thing was that we weren’t organized at the time. That was how the idea was born to form the Pool of Consumer Champions — to make sure that consumer-run organizations were getting their fair share of the Mental Health Services Act. We needed a countywide organization to really become involved in systems change."
The inaugural POCC meeting had 17 attendees; today, the POCC has attracted more than 600 consumers wishing to have a voice and make a change, according to Mahler.
Since then, the POCC has helped secure money for the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign, TAY Initiative, Black Men Speak speakers bureau, and consumer employment at Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, among others.
"It's amazing the accomplishments the POCC has made over the last five years; it’s truly incredible," Mahler said. "What a tremendous resource we have to help change the system."
Following Mahler's remarks, the POCC hosted keynote speakers Beckie Childs and Donita Diamata from Peerlink National Technical Assistance Center in Portland, Oregon. Childs' presentation, entitled "New Roles for Peers in the Jouney toward Wellness," focused on the idea of a wellness coach to help a person achieve mental, physical, and spiritual balance.
Wellness coaching has proven successful, according to Childs, because it is another form of peer support that allows people to be in control of their lives while also having an individual for support and accountability.
"To be a successful wellness coach, one needs to help a person clarify the need for improvement, determine if there is a clear goal, brainstorm actions to be taken, determine the action, set an accountability step, and set a time frame to accomplish the action," Childs said.
Follwing Childs' talk, Diamata spoke of the links between poverty and mental illness. Diamata shared the statistic that mental illness is three times as prevalent in low-income communities as in higher income ones. Further, studies have shown the rate to be anywhere from two to nine times higher in poor communities.
By increasing peer support services and employing people with lived experience, Diamata says, we gain more jobs for peers, better services for everyone, and a more mindful system.
To close the day, members of the community were recognized for their exceptional work with the first annual set of POCC awards. Winners include:
- Letty Elenes — Jay Mahler Consumer Leadership Award
- Carol Patterson — Sally Zinman Consumer Advocacy Award
- Rachel Bryant — Barbara Majak Mental Health Provider of the Year Award
- Abu Rahim — Dr. Marye Thomas Consumer Volunteer of the Year Award
- Shannon Eliot — Media Award
- Katrina Killian — ACNMHC Employee of the Year
- Berkeley Drop-In Center — Outstanding Program of the Year
- Khatera Aslami-Tamplen — PEERS Employee of the Year
- Black Men Speak — PEERS Outstanding Program of the Year
- Rosa Warder — Family Award
- Andree Reyes — Consumer Provider of the Year
- Michelle Vieira — Consumer Provider of the Year
- Brianna Williams — Transitional Age Youth Award
- Amy Liang — POCC Special Recognition Award