Welcome to the Virtual Learning Community
We Learn. We Share. We Thrive.
Ivanna Bond is a mental health advocate and survivor with over 25 years’ in nonprofit business management experience. She is a graduate of the Howie the Harp peer training program at Community Access and is currently Assistant Program Director, Community Access, Crisis Respite Center. In the context of her Howie the Harp training she worked at the ACT Institute at the Center for Practice Innovation at the NY State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia University, on a Scope of Practice Guideline for Peers on ACT Teams in NY State. Bond is also Chairperson of the NYC Peer Workforce Coalition, a professional association for peer workers (peer specialists and peer advocates).
Scott is originally from the Bronx, New York. He has over 20 years’ experience in the retail and management field. Scott enjoyed much success both professionally and personally. After both his career and personal life crashed in 2008, Scott experienced the worst times in his life. After considering ending his own life on multiple occasions and experiencing homelessness, Scott searched for assistance to restart his life. The second half of Scott’s journey has been filled with receiving both valuable assistance and education from individuals who tirelessly work in the mental health community. Scott was so impressed by these individuals he chose to “pay it forward” and has, for the last 11 years, worked in the mental health community to assist his fellow peers on their journey. Currently, Scott serves as the Lead Peer Specialist for the New York State Office of Mental Health at Bronx Psychiatric Center.
Chacku Mathai is an Indian-American who became involved in consumer/survivor/ex-patient advocacy and peer support when he was 15 years old. Chacku’s personal experiences with racism, xenophobia, racialized trauma, suicide attempts, and disabling mental health and substance use conditions, including psychosis as a youth and young adult, launched Chacku and his family towards a number of efforts to advocate for improved services, social conditions, and alternative supports in the community. He has since accumulated over thirty-five years of experience in behavioral health systems in a wide variety of roles such as youth leadership and community organizing, executive and board management and behavioral health infrastructure development. Chacku is the Director for the SAMHSA Healthy Transitions Initiative with the Center for Practice Innovations and OnTrackNY, a Coordinated Specialty Care model for young people experiencing early psychosis in New York State. He volunteers his time in roles such as the President for Friends of Recovery – New York, a statewide coalition of people in recovery from addiction, as Vice-President for the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, and as co-founder of Healing through Hip Hop. He is a National Advisory Council member for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health in Texas and the National Center on Advancing Person-Centered Practices and Systems. Chacku serves on several advisory boards for key research initiatives at Boston, Columbia, Lesley and Rutgers universities. Chacku is also an appointed member of the New York State Integrated Block Grant Committee and the Governor’s Behavioral Health Services Advisory Council.
Oscar Jiménez-Solomon is a mental health researcher and advocate who has dedicated his career to improving the financial wellness of people with psychiatric conditions through research, program development, training and technical assistance, and policy advocacy. Mr. Jiménez-Solomon’s commitment to helping others overcome unemployment and poverty stems from his personal experience of financial hardship and recovery. Mr. Jiménez-Solomon obtained a Master of Public Health at Columbia University and an undergraduate degree in Sociology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. He is currently pursuing studies leading to a Ph.D. in Social Policy at the Columbia University School of Social Work. Since 2013 he has served as Research Scientist at the Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Oscar is the principal investigator of a grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to develop and pilot a peer-led intervention with the goal of building financial hope, improving financial wellness, and reducing distress and suicide risk. As part of his doctoral training he is conducting research at the Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy to examine the impact of economic hardship on hope, life satisfaction and psychiatric distress. Mr. Jiménez-Solomon is Vice-Chair for the Board of the National Disability Institute (NDI), a national organization dedicated to improving the financial wellbeing of people with disabilities. He is also Instructor at the Rutgers University Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, where he teaches coursework for the peer support certificate. Oscar’s previous roles include Director of Community and Economic Development at the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS), Director of Quality Management at the Arc of New York State, and Consultant at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). He has authored or co-authored peer-reviewed articles, training manuals, and online training modules on economic empowerment, cultural competence, and language access. He has also authored book chapters, reports, empowerment videos and training manuals in mental and public health in the United States and Latin America.
Ruth Colón-Wagner: Director of Training & Development (NYAPRS) has 30+ years experience in Child Welfare, Homeless Services, Employment, and Mental Health Care working with children, adults, and families. For the last 25 of those years Ruth has worked in a variety of leadership positions. Prior to joining NYAPRS, Ruth served as Director of Rehabilitation and Treatment of adult mental health services in the Hudson Valley region of New York. As Director of Training & Development, Ruth manages various initiatives which includes technical assistance to organizations (nationally) on organizational culture change; organizational capacity building and sustainability, board development, succession planning and strategic planning. Other specialties include Group Facilitation, Program Management and Compassion Fatigue. Ruth is a certified Dialectical Behavioral Therapist, a Functional Family Therapist and a Life-Skills Educator. Ruth received her MSW from Hunter College School of Social Work and is licensed as a social worker in NYS.
Gina Calhoun is the Director of Doors to Wellbeing, a SAMHSA funded National Technical Assistance Center and a Program of the Copeland Center. She participated in public mental health services for 20 years and is now proud to be a Certified Peer Specialist and Mental Health Educator. When Gina is not promoting wellness and recovery, she enjoys adult gymnastics as well as spending time with her large dynamic family. Gina won the Timothy J. Coakley National Behavioral Health Leadership Award. This award honors peer and family leaders in the behavioral health field whose work is characterized by the highest degree of integrity and a passion for creative approaches for improving the lives of persons living with mental health challenges, especially in the public sector.
During her 40 year behavioral health career, Lori has had a strong interest in the therapeutic effects of self-determination, choice, and personal freedom. She did her dissertation on freedom, spending a month in Russia at the time the Soviet Union collapsed, and focused her inquiry in Soviet mental hospitals where the lack of freedom and choice was pervasive.
After a full career in California that included the Deputy Director for Community Programs of state Department of Mental Health, she re-located to Arizona where she accepted the position as Director for Adult Services where her commitment to recovery principles became a passion. In 2007, Lori founded the Recovery Opportunity Center at Recovery Innovations. Early in 2015, Lori left Recovery Innovations creating a new company, Resilience, Inc. which his now part of Crestwood. Being part of Crestwood has allowed her to learn more about using recovery and resilience principles and practice them in the unique environment of Crestwood. Most exciting is desire of Crestwood to learn and grow as more is known about recovery. Lori’s vision for the future is to continue teaching recovery principles and practices, assuring people that they can recover.
Celia Brown is a psychiatric survivor and a long-time advocate for people with psychiatric disabilities. Celia was one of the first Peer Specialist in New York. She was instrumental in developing and implementing the Peer Specialist Civil Service title for the NYS Office of Mental Health. She currently works in the position of Regional Advocacy Specialist for the Office of Consumer Affairs at the NYS Office of Mental Health. Celia provides technical assistance and support to people with psychiatric disabilities and their families. She facilitates trainings on peer support, wellness and recovery approaches in community mental health agencies. Celia is a long-time leader in the peer movement. She is a certified peer specialist in New York State. Celia has presented nationally and internationally. Celia was the main representative to the United Nations for MindFreedom International and collaborated with other Disability organizations on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Lynnae Brown is the Director of Howie The Harp (HTH) Advocacy Center – a peer led employment training program for people in mental health recovery. Based in Harlem, New York City HTH has trained hundreds of individuals across the metropolitan area to offer supportive services using their lived experience along with peer support principles. Lynnae is a NYS Certified Peer Specialist and her work was featured in BRICTV’s #BHheard Mental Health Series in 2018.
Maryam Husamudeen has been a Peer Bridger for NYAPRS since 2013 and the User Support Staff for APS since 2018. Her background work experience allows her to be highly skilled in the field of High Risk Populations. She is an Advocate and Consultant. She is very dedicated to servicing the community. Her objective is to enlighten service providers on the barriers to care of these populations and develop Quality Improvement Techniques to have a more efficient interaction. She is a seasoned nonprofit professional with over 30 years’ experience. She has earned her BA in Sociology. She is a NY State Certified Peer Specialist and newly trained in eCPR amongst other certifications.
Yumiko Ikuta is a consumer and the Director of the Office of Rehabilitation in the Bureau of Mental Health at the NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene. Her office oversees over 80 non-clinical treatment and rehabilitation programs, including supported employment, education support services, clubhouses, psychosocial clubs, peer support, respite, self-help, advocacy and outreach, as well as peer specialist training programs. Her experience in peer specialist education is extensive as the former Deputy Director of Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center and the former Program Manager of the Academy of Peer Services. Yumiko also worked closely with the NYS Office of Mental Health to develop Medicaid billable Home and Community Based Services and its delivery system. She worked for over 15 years in the corporate sector and for the US Agency for International Development at the Dept. of State as an economic development officer in several developing countries. She also started and operated her own wholesale and retail fine jewelry business on Madison Avenue in NYC. Yumiko holds a BA in Economics and East Asian Studies and an MBA in Marketing and International Business both from Columbia University.
Len Statham is the Chief Operating Officer with the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. He has worked with people with mental health and substance use issues for more than 25 years, promoting recovery focused services and service provision. Through SAMHSA’s BRSS TACS program, he has helped peer-run organizations from across the country increase their capacity to provide peer-run services in a value-based healthcare world. Additionally, Len also works with the National Development and Research Institutes Addiction Technology Transfer Center (NDRI-ATTC) and The Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University offering training and technical assistance to organizations across the country providing employment services to people in mental health recovery. Critically, Len is a person with lived experience in the mental health system and this experience informs and strengthens his work on recovery and employment issues.
Steve Miccio is the CEO of People-USA located in Poughkeepsie, NY. People-USA is a peer operated advocacy and service organization serving people throughout New York State. Steve has used his personal experiences to help provide valuable insight in creating, leading and manage alternative peer operated crisis diversion/respite/stabilization services and has assisted in the creation of various complimentary peer services in NY and across the United States and Europe.
Cheryle Hinds Leslie is a State Certified Peer Specialist, an advocate for social justice and a voice for peers. Cheryle is from the Bronx. She was her mother’s right hand for countless projects. Cheryle is a member of the North Bronx National Council of Negro Women for 40 years working on countless services. Cheryle helped start the North Bronx NCNW Child Development Center. In the Peer Movement, Cheryle graduated from Howie The Harp, and has been a part of Community Access, Bronx Crisis Respite, and managing Baltic Street Bronx Peer Advocacy Center. She has fought for peers in Albany with NYAPRS, Coalition for Women Prisoners, and the Supported Housing Network of New York. Cheryle sits on the Mayors Community Service Board & Community Service Board Mental Health Sub Committee, in NYC. Cheryle is the Entitlements Coordinator for the Jewish Board Brooklyn Supported Housing and Treatment Apartment Programs.
Denise Ranaghan shares a powerful personal recovery story that has driven her 20 year record of service in the mental health field. She received a Masters of Art and Education from Teachers College, CU and went on to hold multiple positions in the mental health system including Residential Manager, Peer Specialist, Rehabilitation Coordinator, Director of Wellness Services and Director of Assertive Community Treatment Team. While Director of Mental Health Association’s Wellness Program Denise initiated projects that collaborated with community organizations to bring mental health and substance use related issues into public discussions. She is a certified WRAP facilitator who has both helped to start and support alternative peer run self-help groups. While serving as the Director of Peer Services at the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Denise oversaw multiple projects that employed Peer Bridgers and trained providers on how to incorporate peer services into their organizations. She has presented on Peer Support, Trauma Informed Care, Voice Hearing, Cultural Diversity, Suicide, and the Human Canine Connection. She is the author of multiple essays on recovery as well as the book “Institutional-Eyes,” which profiles her experience in the military where she was first psychiatrically hospitalized. She is a writer and a pastel artist, currently living in New Paltz, NY with her partner and their five dogs and two cats.
Carlton Whitmore is the Director of New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene’s Office of Consumer Affairs. The Office of Consumer Affairs is responsible for assuring the voice of those with lived experience is heard and integrated into all levels of policy and planning. Carlton’s primary function in this role is to advocate on behalf of individuals and families who may not have access to resources needed to support their recovery.
Liz Breier holds a Master of Arts in Health Advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College, is a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner from The Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, as well as a Certified Peer Specialist for the state of New York. Additionally, Liz is a Certified Health Coach and is a candidate for additional certification with The Institute For Functional Medicine. Liz has worked in the field of Behavioral Health in a variety of leadership and supervisory roles in the states of Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Since 2000 Liz has been actively involved in supporting individuals in creating and sustaining their personal vision of recovery as well as helping to create and shape a service system that is person centered, anti-racist, recovery focused and consistent with the principles of psychiatric rehabilitation. Additionally, Liz uses her personal lived experience as a part of her advocacy and work around individual self-determination and healing from trauma.
Jonathan P. Edwards consults nationally on peer support services implementation and supervision and plays an integral role in advancing peer workforce development. Jonathan wears many hats; recently earning a PhD from the Social Welfare program at CUNY Graduate Center and a Doctoral Fellow in the SAMHSA-funded Council on Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship Program; as an adjunct professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College; as a licensed clinical social worker and member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers; as a program consultant, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention, Care, and Treatment; as a member of the National Association of Peer Supporters Board; as an executive member of the New York Peer Specialist Certification Board; a New York Certified Peer Specialist; and a person in long-term recovery.
Gita Enders currently holds the position of Director in the NYC Health + Hospitals / Office of Behavioral Health, where she oversees numerous health care delivery system activities and concerns impacting individuals who use mental health, substance use, and co-occurring treatment services. Gita has presented locally and nationally on programming and supervision. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker; she has a Master’s degree in English (Creative Writing), a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and is a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner (CPRP) and New York Certified Peer Specialist. She serves as supervisor to the Peer Advisor Program as part of the Public Psychiatry Fellowship of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, and is also involved with the Community Access Howie the Harp Advocacy Center as a Peer Training Program instructor.
Clinton Green is a Senior Training and Implementation Specialist at The Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery. He collaborates with New York City behavioral health providers on enhancing access and quality of person-centered and recovery-oriented services through her provision of trainings and technical assistance. Prior to this position, he was the Program Director for a new peer training model under the ThriveNYC grant. Clinton has worked over ten (10+) years with individuals with mental health challenges in recovery-oriented programs including over four (4+) plus years in a supervisory role. In these roles, he assisted with the creation of trauma informed policies and assessment material. Mr. Green has also trained on Community Inclusion Principals with Dr. Mark Salzer from Temple University.
Athena has been an Instructional Designer with APS since March of 2020. Before switching to a career in ID, she was a field ecologist and taught college biology courses for 17 years. She is also a certified feline training and behavior specialist and Cultural Intelligence Facilitator. Athena will try just about anything once, but her most common hobbies include writing, dancing, travel, cat rescue, and anything related to Monty Python. She currently has a crush on Michael Palin.
Dr. Gill’s research interests encompass a broad range of topics with the psychiatric rehabilitation of persons with serious mental illnesses. These include evidence-based and promising practices in terms of employment, education, health and wellness promotion, and techniques to promote community integration, quality of life, and recovery. In addition, he has a strong interest in the educational techniques and approaches that promote practitioner development through academic and other educational approaches.
Rita is an instructional designer with lived experience of a major mental health diagnosis who has been a certified peer support specialist, an advanced level WRAP facilitator, Recovery to Practice advanced peer specialist training developer, and for two years served as acting Director of Operations at the International Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPS) where she had coordinated efforts to develop National Practice Guidelines for the peer workforce. Rita currently holds a faculty position at Rutgers University as the lead instructional designer on the online Academy of Peer Services (APS), the training and testing component of the New York State peer specialist certification and the companion Virtual Community of Practice. She continues to serve on a national workgroup for supervision of peer specialist and peer support workforce development and is a frequent lecturer on peer support values, practice, and supervision.
Amy B. Spagnolo, APS Project Manager, is a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions at Rutgers, the State University. In addition to teaching and administration, her experience includes over 20 years of curriculum design, staff training and consultation for the behavioral health sector. She also brings a decade long commitment to training and educating the peer support provider workforce. Currently, in her role as the Project Manager for the Academy of Peer Services, she oversees the instructional design and technical offering of 50 online-based training modules for New York Peer Specialist Certification. This is the only online training and testing platform for peer specialist training of its kind.
Karen Richards is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Rutgers University Biomedical and Health Sciences, School of Health Professions, in Newark, NJ. Dr. Richards is also the Director of Instructional Design, Media, and Technology at the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care in New York City, NY. She has been working in the field of Web development and e-learning for over two decades, specializing in online scenario-based and problem-based learning. In her role as instructional designer for the Academy of Peer Services, at Rutgers University since 2013, Dr. Richards works with subject-matter experts to design online courses for peer support specialists. She continues to contribute to the body of research in the field of designing online environments for learners with mental health disorders. As Director of Instructional Design, Media, and Technology at the MJHS Institute, Dr. Richards oversees the organization’s website, learning management system, and all online continuing educational programming for physicians, nurses, social workers, and other allied healthcare professionals.
Varsha Kamat has been a Web Support Specialist for the Academy of Peer Services at Rutgers University for the past four years. She works with Instructional Designers and the User Support Specialist to maintain the APS website. She also does data analysis. Varsha has more than 25 years of experience in Information Technology, and you can find her at the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ. On a personal note, Varsha likes gardening, sewing, cooking and dancing. She is also a good photographer.