Peer support groups are helping people launch careers — and more
On Fridays, Angie Stevens’s Peer Group gathers around a table in a classroom, or goes for a walk, or takes a picnic lunch to Westchester Lagoon. They chat about their children and catch each other up on their week.
Watching the group, you would think they were lifelong friends. In fact, when they started the group, they were strangers, each of whom had come to CITC to sign up for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Now? They are the kind of network of support that helps people start careers.
At CITC, we believe in the power of peer support. Nearly all of our Recovery Services programs incorporate peer interactions. Our Tribal PREP program uses youth to educate other teens and young adults about healthy relationships. In fact, many of our programs employ individuals who were once CITC employees who received the same services they now offer others.
According to a 2018 CITC survey, 82 percent of people who engaged in peer-to-peer programs reported positive outcomes; this is up from the 77 percent of peer program participants who reported positive outcomes in 2017. What’s more, only 66 percent of individuals not engaged in peer support reported positive outcomes. Peer support was working.
So last year, CITC’s board of directors asked the Employment & Training Services Department (ETSD) to start offering increased peer support. Now, in addition to meeting regularly with case managers or job coaches, job-seekers can also attend weekly peer group meetings.
Led by Participants
Ramanda Stowers shares a story: During a class she has been taking at UAA, she had a difficult encounter with a teacher. She got through the situation by relying on an idea the Peer Group had discussed.
“I thought, I know you’re not affected by what I’m doing, and I’m not going to be affected by what you’re doing,” she relates to the Peer Group.
The other members of the Peer Group analyze Ramanda’s response, asking questions and giving her feedback. Angie, an ETSD job coach, guides the conversation when necessary, but the members of the group take the lead.
That’s as it should be, Angie says.
“I’m mostly here to stimulate conversation,” she explains. “I’m not having to say, How are you going to get off of TANF? Because when I tap into what makes them excited, they start telling me their bigger goals: ‘I’ve always wanted to be an RN.’ Oh, really? So let’s get you connected to our health care program.”
“We’re seeing that people who attend groups like Angie’s have increased compliance and participation,” reported BreeAnn Davis, CITC Job Coach Supervisor. “More importantly, the groups can help people learn to be in a social setting, to be accountable, to increase their skills. And it gives Angie an opportunity to not be a case manager, but a true coach who encourages them to move forward.”
The group participants help each move forward, too, exchanging numbers and encouraging each other to get in contact if someone needs a ride to the next meeting or simply an encouraging word before a job interview.
Based on the success of groups like Angie’s, says BreeAnn, ETSD is planning to offer additional peer-supported experiences, including Life Skills classes that get the entire family involved. “The parents will serve as peers, in a way; the kids will get a chance to watch their parent be healthy, and they’ll enjoy time together in a supportive setting.”
For more information about ETSD Peer Groups, visit citc.org/employment-training or call (907) 793-3300.