MHPC 9th Edition, Winter 2023

Hopes for the Equity Committee at WNYIL

Renae Kimble, Chief Organizational Equity Officer WNYIL

I have always believed that change is an incremental process that is possible with hard work, commitment, education, and guidance. So, the hope of the Equity Committee at WNYIL is to be a catalyst for encouraging divergent voices to feel free and safe to speak up regarding issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This will empower staff members to be open to embracing the unique differences of who we are. Why? Because our differences are our strength – which should be celebrated. Innovation comes, ideas come, ingenuity comes when we work and surround ourselves with colleagues who are different than we are and therefore, think differently than we do.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives seek to open us up to explore the possibilities and the benefits of working with someone who is from a marginalized group and to recognize that he or she is not a threat but a potential asset. One who can provide different ideas and knowledge from a different perspective which can lead to increased productivity. Everyone deserves an opportunity to advance him or herself in the workplace and feel a sense of belonging.

The Equity Committee is open to having meaningful dialogue, debates, and discussions respectfully regarding issues of the day in an effort to strengthen and build relationships with staff members and consumers. This is done in an effort to reconcile differences across divergent viewpoints as well as to gain a better understanding of how power, privilege, institutional, and systemic oppression affects marginalized members of our community. We need to obtain a better understanding regarding how being a member of a particular group can either help someone’s chances of getting ahead in society or hurt someone’s chances of getting ahead in society if he or she is not a member of the “in-group”.

If it is our goal not to leave anyone behind and enhance systems of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, then we must gain a greater knowledge of how systems of oppression, discrimination, and otherism affect our consumers and members of the community, who are even less privileged than we are. So, we must learn how to dismantle these systems in order to make positive, substantive, and meaningful changes wherever we are.

We can begin our journey of hope and change by recognizing our own unconscious or implicit biases and how they affect our relationships with everyone we encounter. Become an effective Ally.  An “Ally” is defined as an individual who is not a member of a particular marginalized group, but one who seeks to help end the oppression of those in the marginalized group. The Equity Committee must continue to educate ourselves and our colleagues on microaggressions, which are the unintentional interactions or behaviors that communicate bias towards those who have been historically marginalized. We want everyone to know and feel that their difference is valued, and they are a necessary part of the WNYIL Family of Agencies.

equity color blindness test muralDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”. In other words, today’s challenges may weigh us down but should never keep us from envisioning a more equitable, just, and diverse society and workplace. A place where all people are respected and accepted for the content of their character and not judged by their disability, color, race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, age, marital status, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or source of income.

If we are able to accomplish that, then I believe that the hopes of the Equity Committee at WNYIL will just be beginning to be realized.

Honoring the life of Celia Brown “A truly impressive advocate of our time”

All of us at Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL) mourn the loss of the life of Celia Brown, one of our pioneering historic mental health advocates, who characterized herself as being a “psychiatric survivor”. She was one of the first self-identified Peer Advocates in New York State in the 1990’s. The Advocates at WNYIL were energized by her personal example of being a bold leader in the psychiatric movement, teaching and empowering WNYIL’s initial Mental Health Peers at conferences throughout New York State. We of WNYIL got to see Celia in action at various protests in which she was calling for people with mental health issues to have human rights, dignity, and other alternatives to care than just force and medication. Being a person of color, she opened doors for others of diversity in color, age, sex, including LGBTQ+, to be heard in local, state, National, and international venues. She gently pushed her fellow survivors into the mainstream mental health service delivery arena, to be heard and to have a voice in how people with mental health issues should be treated. She was often seen in the media, award winning documentaries, and significantly giving testimony in front of the United Nations about the horrific conditions in which people with mental health issues were living, in New York State and the United States in the 1990’s.

Celia was a very clever advocate within the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH). She is one of very few advocates who have sustained long-term employment with the OMH, despite her involvement with groups and movements that often contradicted the intentions of the Office of Mental Health. She was behind the scenes, in back rooms, and always late for OMH Zoom meetings, showing and giving support to younger and diverse Peer leaders. That was her niche. But she also was a pillar among the mainstream Peers in NYS.

Our Stephanie Orlando, WNYIL’s Chief Operating Officer, shared with me how Celia helped the Youth Power movement by always supporting, encouraging, and validating the voices of our young people. She gave her experience to this young community in which true leaders were born.

I last spoke to her when Kevin Smith, Director of Mental Health PEER Connection (MHPC) and I, where part of a Statewide presentation on “Post Traumatic Growth. Surviving the Buffalo 5/14 Massacre.” She told me how she made sure the higher level OMH personnel would attend our presentation. She said she was in awe of what we presented, and she said more of this needs to be done and to keep on talking about the lack of racial equality that exists in our State. She said she would push our issues within the State Office of Mental Health and for us to push from the outside.

Below is a picture of Celia and a statement made by her MindFreedom International Group, followed by the official OMH Commissioner’s statement on the loss of Celia Brown to our community. We should take notice of what Celia was skillful in doing and follow her lead. She is truly a role model, and her efforts should continue to live on in all our work at WNYIL. May Celia Brown rest in Power!!

Celia Brown

MindFreedom International Group

The world lost a great advocate and leader with the passing of Celia Brown on Sunday night, December 11th, 2022. Celia was a self-identified psychiatric survivor who advocated for the rights of psychiatric survivors and people with disabilities around the world. She was a long-time member of MindFreedom International [MFI] and served as President for around 20 years. MindFreedom International is committed to winning human rights and alternatives for people labeled with psychiatric disabilities and Celia embodied the mission through her persistent advocacy.

Celia used her quiet, steady determination and wisdom in leading MindFreedom International. She was clear and firm in her decisions, but always open to hearing and considering the views of others. She was unshakeable in her commitment to supporting people who were going through hard times and helping them not just to survive, but to thrive. As President of MindFreedom, she experienced challenging times with some of her advocacy stances but weathered them in her steadfast way. She continued her leadership of MFI right up until the end.

She was also a founding member of the National People of Color/Consumer Survivor Network and Surviving Race. Celia was well regarded as the Regional Advocacy Specialist at the New York City (NYC) Field Office, NYS Office of Mental Health, providing technical assistance and support to people with psychiatric disabilities and their families and facilitating trainings on peer support, wellness, and recovery approaches in community mental health agencies. The Board of MindFreedom International is extremely appreciative of the work Celia did for the rights of people with disabilities and for her dedication to the work of MindFreedom International. We shall miss her but will follow her lead in continuing our commitment to fight for choice and the rights of people with psychiatric involvement.

 -- MindFreedom International Board of Directors

Honoring Celia Brown- a Message from OMH Commissioner Ann Sullivan

Today is a sad day for the peer community as we have lost one of the founders of the peer movement. Celia Brown, who passed away in her home Sunday evening, was an amazing advocate both within the Office of Mental Health and through her leadership on the board of Mad Pride. Celia was not only the first peer specialist in our state civil service system, but also in the country. She helped to create and define the role of the peer specialist in our state facilities and her work is what made the peer specialist role become part of the standard of care for people receiving services. 

Of her many accomplishments, Celia was most proud of her leadership in the Adult Home project including an emphasis on helping people discover their passion. That focused work was directly influential in the creation of the state’s recovery centers. She also recognized the importance of mutual support within the peer specialist community and worked diligently to create and then support the annual NYC peer specialist conference. This was a great challenge and something that she loved doing.

Celia was assertive and firm in her convictions, yet always kind, respectful, and willing to consider different perspectives and beliefs. Celia was a role model for so many people in recovery, always an inspiration and she exemplified what is possible. Celia held onto hope and in doing so gave hope. As a woman of color, she offered leadership and guidance, demonstrating for countless individuals what it looks like to overcome multiple barriers. One of her many strengths was not allowing the trauma that contributes to - and is a part of -- the experience of having mental health issues to impact her relationships or willingness to trust and see the good in people. 

candleOne of the many beautiful examples of how she lived her life can be seen in how she honored her father’s passing. He was building a house in Ghana when he passed away. Celia took on the responsibility to finish the job and went to Ghana every year to help fulfil his dream. This is the person we lost today, someone who understood the importance of tradition and relationships. Celia was the kind of person who was a natural healer and was always there for anyone who needed someone to talk to. To honor her spirit, let us all make an extra effort to take care of ourselves and each other, create space to be with uncomfortable feelings, and allow this moment to become part of our life experience as we continue her work of making the world a better place by being kind to each other and listening without judgement.

Ann Sullivan, Amanda Saake & the Office of Advocacy and Peer Support Services
(formerly the Office of Consumer Affairs)

The Keys to Recovery

Annie L. O’Neil

person meditatingThe dictionary tells us that recovery means a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. It is also described as the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost. In my opinion, using the word “normal” when it comes to our health, mind, or strength doesn’t make sense. Who determines what “normal” is, or what qualifies as “normal”? The action of recovery reminds me of the saying “I am taking my life back”. Recovery to me is taking possession of your life back and rebuilding it stronger than it was before. Letting go of the things or people that held you back from growing into whom you are supposed to be and fulfilling your purpose in life.

The world looks at people with substance use disorders and sees them as those who need recovery. That is so far from the truth! We as human beings pick up bad habits that mean us no good. Doing anything too much can form a habit and doing something unhealthy can become a habit, also. Eating too much, playing video games, procrastination, drinking alcohol, substance use, lying, and watching television excessively are just a few examples of things many people tend to try to recover from, if they feel the action is unhealthy and doesn’t fit into their life anymore. I had to learn to not play video games too much because it became a distraction when I was trying to get my life in order. I picked up playing video games because I am an introvert who would rather be social behind the screen than in person.

A lot of people decide to go into recovery when they choose to make major life changes that would normally be for the better. They will start to recognize unhealthy habits. No one starts a habit expecting it to become habitual to the point that they will need recovery, yet we do. I try to be mindful and practice healthy habits. I focus on not doing anything too much so that it may interfere with my own personal responsibilities. Developing healthier habits is the best way to recover from bad habits. Taking the steps to change for the better shows self-love and is the most important key to recovery.

Mental Health PEER Connection and community partners to help behavioral health patients transition from hospitals back into the community

Mental Health PEER Connection (MHPC), in collaboration with Value Network and Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), is about to begin an exciting new pilot program aimed at expediting individuals with emotional, mental or behavioral health issues to transition from the hospital back into their homes: the Peer Bridger Program.

Thanks to funding from Value Network, MHPC has recently hired a Peer Bridger Support Specialist, who has in-person lived experience with behavioral health hospitalization and has successfully resumed life outside. Additionally, Value Network is refining a computer app into which ECMC discharge planners will be responsible for entering consumers ready for discharge whom they think would benefit from a Peer Bridger. The Peer will check the app daily for potential consumers, then visit the person, hopefully before discharge, to help the transition back into the community. This includes breaking down any barriers that may prevent the individual from completing the discharge recommendations. This is an ideal partnership for MHPC, as assisting individuals with mental health concerns to live more independently is a primary goal of the Agency.

Value NetworkOnce the pilot program has built up a track record of successful transitions, it will be introduced to other hospitals which could make use of Peer Bridgers to aid in restoring individuals to their communities.

Value Network describes itself as “an affiliation of healthcare partners working proactively and with conviction to develop and implement integrative clinical solutions to the inefficiencies and communication gaps plaguing our healthcare system.”

“The Keys to Recovery”

Denise Munir, Peer Support Specialist

Gaining the keys to recovery begins when a person recognizes that he/she needs to “recover”. Admitting that you are in a “season of recovery” that will require you to take some steps to get the most out of life. Living life to its fullest will require you to understand what the keys to recovery truly are:

  • The first key is acquired once you recognize that you need to recover from a situation or a circumstance by making sure you are getting what you need on a regular basis. To maintain the first key, you will need routine and consistency.
  • The second key would be knowing and pinpointing every area from which you will need to recover.

There are times you have multiple areas to recover from, and if you don’t know what those areas are, how can you successfully recover? At times we can continue to live life and do what needs to be done without ever recognizing that this would be the recovery process which brings us to our next key:

  • Acknowledge what “season” you are in – your season of recovery -- so you can plan things accordingly for your recovery process. Some may not feel they need a plan but the way to recover successfully may require some sort of map on how to complete the recovery process.

In my road to recovery, I noticed that, if I didn’t have a plan, a system or order for how to overcome the things I had been through, I would continue to hit rock bottom even when I thought I was okay. The challenges of surviving a life of trauma are real and can impair your getting the most out of life because of what you have been through. The pain of trauma, being mistreated, dealing with a loved one dying or a loved one getting hurt can take complete control over your life. You no longer feel like yourself and you can almost feel like you don’t know how to get back to being yourself. I must conclude that it is understandable for you to simply state, “I am not okay, and I will not be okay if I don’t do something about my situation.”

Yes, I noticed that I was strong and can take on a lot and could even handle a lot. One day, I said to myself, “do you recognize that you need help to recover and if you don’t go get help you will continue to suffer?” Which leads me to one of the major keys of recovery.

  • It’s important to “paint a picture” for yourself and others of what your recovery process looks like. You have friends and family that may not have any clue that you are in recovery or what recovery looks like for you. So, if they don’t know you are in recovery, your recovery can be delayed because no one understands what to do or how to be there for you in your season of recovery. This would lead me to my last key.
  • Seek help in your season of recovery, and don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of what you must do to go through your season of recovery.

It took time, a great deal of time, to heal and recover in multiple areas of my life from back injury, to mistreatment by others, to a truly rough childhood … and the biggest area of recovery was watching my daughter recover from brain surgery. 

person flexingSome people get surgery, and they recover, and all is well. But her surgery required a process of recovery and to this day it is a work in progress. Her season of brain injury, not being able to walk, talk, eat normally, and go to the bathroom was a scary season. The recovery process from this took a long time. When I say, “recovery process”, I simply mean the things we saw, the pain of multiple surgeries, near death experiences, being told you can leave the hospital, but then being told something else went wrong. This was what I needed to recover from. But her recovery with the help of my church family, biological family and friends was a four-month process of therapy, rehab, classes on how to move limbs and chew again. In her recovery process, it was a challenge, but she had help, a system, a routine, a schedule, love, attention and all the affection she needed in her season. This made her recovery process a lot easier to get through. 

Now, her recovery was obvious, but when your recovery process is not, you may need to take a step back and monitor your life to see if you do need to recover. And then acknowledge what that is, so you can get through your recovery process and come out on top.

Problem Gambling Resource Center

Problem Gambling Resource Center

With gambling opportunities expanding at rapid rates in New York State and beyond, it’s imperative that all factions of the community, in all geographic areas of the state, join forces around the issue of problem gambling. We need to collaborate to raise awareness of problem gambling, prevent any additional problems related to gambling, and get those in need adequate support services in their own community. 

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 2 million U.S. adults (1%) are estimated to meet criteria for severe gambling problems in a given year. Another 4-6 million (2-3%) would be considered to have mild or moderate gambling problems; that is, they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for gambling addiction but meet one or more of the criteria and are experiencing problems due to their gambling behavior. 

The effects of problem gambling are not isolated to the individual. It’s been estimated that eight to 10 additional people can be negatively affected by one person’s gambling behaviors (Petry 2005). These people include family members, friends, neighbors and even coworkers. When we take those people into account, an estimated 64-80 million people are being directly impacted. 

Prevention, screening, treatment and recovery resources are all important in addressing the needs of the individual, family, and community - prevent gambling from becoming problem gambling, prevent problems from getting worse during treatment, and prevent relapse while in recovery from gambling addiction.

Screening for problem gambling is how we can identify individuals struggling and connect them to the help they need before their condition worsens. Individuals with a gambling problem struggle to maintain healthy relationships with loved ones, have difficulty prioritizing and holding employment, and experience declining mental health (i.e. anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation).

Treatment and support can help both the people gambling and their loved ones. Working with a specially trained counselor can help people heal the crippling anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation they faced because of their gambling. The process helps rebuild relationships with children, spouses, parents and other loved ones as well as reconnect with their supports in society, career and hobbies. 

Recovery is a lifestyle that supports individuals and families to abstain from gambling and manage triggers. Recovery is the journey individuals and families take to strengthen relationships and achieve healthier lives after living through the devastating consequences of problem gambling. 

Our community must partner together to raise the awareness of problem gambling and make certain NY residents can access the services and resources that they need. 

  • If you are an individual concerned about your or someone else’s gambling activity, call the Western NY Problem Gambling Resource Center to learn about supports and resources in your community. 
  • If you are interested in learning more about problem gambling, participate in one of our problem gambling webinars. 
  • If you are a community-focused organization, add problem gambling information to your outreach and education materials. 
  • If you are a mental health or addiction professional, screen all of your clients for problem gambling and gambling disorder. 
  • If you are a recovery support facility, create gambling-free zones to ensure individuals feel safe from triggers. 

The Western Problem Gambling Resource Center (PGRC) has resources for any of the above recommendations. If you or someone you love is struggling, or if you would like more information, call (716) 833-4274 or email to speak with a knowledgeable PGRC staff member who will connect you to the resources that will best meet your needs. 

Problem Gambling Resource CenterThe Western Problem Gambling Resource Center (PGRC) is a program of the New York Council on Problem Gambling dedicated to addressing the issue of problem gambling within New York State. The vision of the PGRC is the positive transformation of lives harmed by problem gambling. The PGRC focuses efforts on increasing public awareness of problem gambling; connecting clients with treatment, recovery and support services; and promoting healthy lifestyles which foster freedom from problem gambling. Visit to learn more about the PGRC network.

Keys to Recovery

Brooks Price, Peer Support Specialist


As is the case with most peer support specialists in this field, I, too, have had my battles with mental health. There was a time in my life in which I suffered from severe depression. Enveloped in a deep state of sadness and bereft of any motivation or desire for healthy living, it was as if I accepted my depressed state as my new “normal.” I spent days isolated in my room, contemplating life’s worth, and refusing to engage in social conventions and societal norms. There were times that I rejected the notion of recovery only to entertain my depressed mind with negative thoughts, so much so that I found comfort in them. Given the grim outlook that I had on life, one may wonder, ‘how was he able to change course and restore his life?’ What were the keys to his recovery?

Truthfully, I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge the support of my family. If it weren’t for the unbridled love and encouragement of my family, I would have had great difficulty embarking on my journey towards recovery. My mother was especially supportive, and it was with her guidance that I sought therapy. After carefully weighing my options of care, I decided to attend a Personalized Recovery Oriented Services (PROS) outpatient program, which connected me to even more supportive and encouraging individuals. It was such a relief to be around others who shared similar struggles to those I had. Through this environment, I was able to form a strong social network of support. It was with this experience that I realized that forming healthy relationships are vital, and one of the keys to maintaining and restoring our mental wellbeing.

Thanks to the supportive and compassionate people that I met at the PROS program, I now had an extra incentive to wake up in the morning and attend therapy. I considered them all to be my friends and getting the opportunity to be around so many wonderful people every day was an exciting concept. So much so, that I didn’t mind walking 25 minutes daily to get there! With walking being my primary -- and only -- mode of transportation, I started to notice that being active was having a positive effect on my mood. I was starting to regain energy and become more physically fit -- Consequently my self-esteem and self-image improved! Noticing the positive impact that remaining active had on me, I decided to make an effort to walk often throughout the week. Not simply because I had to, but because I enjoyed it and saw the benefit of it. Such a stark contrast from sitting on my laurels and entertaining dark thoughts! So, yes, remaining active is pertinent to our recovery and mental state.

With all of these new developments in my life, I recognized one of the key elements that was helping me immensely throughout my recovery -- Hope. So, what was it that gave me a renewed sense of hope? Was it my friends and family? Was it the daily exercise? Yes, no doubt they played a role, but in truth, it was my strong belief in God. Even on my darkest days, I continued to believe in Him. With Him as my source of hope, I believed that recovery was possible. I have no doubts that it was through Him that I was making progress. That speaks to the importance of hope and why we should seek it. Whether that be the inspirational testimonies or examples of others, or the belief in a higher power, hope is essential for recovery.

hold onto hopeWith my hope for recovery growing ever so much, I became more active in my mental health treatment, particularly when it came to working closely with the staff and my friends at PROS. Eventually, learning more about my diagnosis (or mental health in general) was no longer an exercise of education and treatment, but one of excitement and curiosity. After therapy sessions, I would venture home and continue with my ‘education.’ I would implement the skills and techniques that I absorbed in treatment while reading literature on psychology and sociology. I thought the more I took in, the more I could not only help myself, but others as well. Needless to say, my compassion for the human condition grew. The staff at PROS took notice of my efforts and passion for people and recommended that I consider peer work as a profession. Yes, I took their recommendation and never looked back!

As a peer that continues with his journey towards recovery, I feel that I have found my passion and purpose in life, working closely with others. Being a witness to people overcoming some of the most challenging situations and providing them with just a smidgeon of hope to meet their goals in life – By far one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I’ve had. So, a sense of purpose and developing a sense of self-concept are key ingredients for recovery. I now know what I am capable of, and I have no reservations in stating that we’re all quite capable of the very same thing. Our keys to recovery may differ, but the engine behind it remains the same. All we really need is a little bit of hope. 

Working and Recovery

Christascha Knight, Peer Support Specialist

person looking through binocularsWorking is good stress because it helps you achieve your personal version of success. Recovery and working are hand and hand. You must learn to manage your money again. Put money aside for positive stuff. Be mindful of how you are thinking. Adjust your character, show up to the appointment on time go to the AA and NA meetings on time if that is your recovery journey. Take your medication on time and consistently. Create your work life vs your personal life balance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and if you relapse there is no judgment, we can refer you to different parts of the agency and in the community.

For more information about the Job Club please call during Job Club hours Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. at 716-836-0822 ext. 173. An appointment is necessary to attend.

If you would like to get linked with the job club and are not currently a consumer of the Mental Health PEER Connection or Western New York Independent Living, please call intake at 716-836-0822 ext. 126.

Spanish flag

Un poco de español para principiantes

A little Spanish for beginners

Lisa Maria Cruz, MHPC Outreach Coordinator


Vamos a tener una lección pequeña en cada boletin informativo. ¡Porque todo el mundo puede hablar el español!

We are going to have a small lesson in each Newsletter. Because everyone can speak Spanish.

¡Bienvenido!  Welcome!

Me llamo Lisa Maria Cruz.  My name is Lisa Maria Cruz.

¿Cómo se llama?  What is your name?

¿Como está usted?  How are you?

¿En que puedo servirle?  How may I help you?

¿Qué hora es?  What time is it?

¡Hasta luego!  See you later!

Con mucho gusto.  Pleased to meet you.

Gracias.  Thank you.

Buena suerte.  Good luck.

*Note when meeting someone for the first time it is probably safest to use usted. But there is some variability with each individual. If you don’t know, just ask, ¿Puedo tutearle? May I use tu with you? If they say no, don’t be offended. It’s best to respect people’s boundaries

The Youthful Excitement of Guitar

Dave Meyers, Contributing Writer

I’m listening to Nirvana right now. They helped me become interested in playing guitar when I was 15 years old, in the 90s, when grunge was huge. At that age, my main go-to was Led Zeppelin, who was the biggest reason I wanted to play. Also, my sister is a musician, so she brought a classical guitar home from college one day. There were also some music sheets with chords she helped me figure out how to play.

In the months to come, as I learned some rock and roll, blues, and classical guitar, my sights were set high. I believed I could play along with Jimmy Page. I’m sure as I played along it sounded like noise. Despite this, I eventually learned “Tangerine”, and I remember impressing my sister’s boyfriend at the time. I had a tough time getting the up and down strum pattern for a while, as I only strummed down. This made for a flat sound.

A lot of the time I just experimented with the strings to see what I could do. Other times I attempted the Grateful Dead, who ended up becoming a favorite band and influence to play.

I dealt with severe mental health issues the spring I was 16 years old, including a first-time mixed manic episode and long hospital stay. This stay introduced me to the world of treatment for bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, the medication for thoughts got me to a point of focus where my guitar playing became more disciplined. I took jazz guitar lessons, and also that year I joined a punk band and performed in the high school variety show.

Writing my own style music for guitar started the summer I was 18 years old, but really took off at about 22. My muse was frustration about love, which was part of an aggressive acoustic style. Playing this music led to great social opportunities at open mics such as at art spaces and bars. I wrote many folk-rock songs in this style over the course of three years.

My nights became later and later as I associated with local musicians, trying to meet people and attempt new forms of music. I played punk and folk, depending on if I was by myself or with people. Most of the music I saw live was indie, but I never took off on that despite wanting to mesh more with the scene.

guitar playerGuitar was a big focus of mine as I went to UB for English literature, but I got lost somewhere in the midst of mania, late nights drinking and smoking, and trying to become a great peer advocate. My yearning for greatness came to a halt with an injured brain and a changed personality.

After many years, I spend less time on creative pursuits than I did when I was younger and am more drawn to dry subject matter like encyclopedias or science. Meanwhile WNYIL remains in my Life. I am grateful for the option to play guitar the first and third Thursday of the month with the Peer Connection Open Mic. Freedom of expression to me means encouragement to heal and grow.

Virtual Support Groups

A Journey to Healing, Wednesdays, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Eddylees Guzman, 716-836-0822, ext. 164 or email at contact to register. We will bring awareness, education, and support surrounding addiction to families who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. Participants will learn how to set healthy boundaries, learn the stages of grief & loss, model coping skills, and the importance of self-care.

Positive Perspective, Wednesdays, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Terrence Lockett, 716-836-0822 ext. 132 or email at contact to register. How do we change our thinking? Let’s find the positive in this very negative world!

Hand & Hand, Thursdays, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Ashanti Brown, 716-836-0822 ext. 160 or email at contact to register. Reaching out to the community with a trauma and support group.

In the Moment, 1st and 3rd Thursdays, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Brett Dunbar, 716-836-0822 ext. 509 or email at contact to register. My group is focused on using mindfulness techniques to acknowledge and redirect intrusive thinking. This can be used in everyday life and can be very helpful for people who are dealing with a mental illness or a substance use dependence.

I Believe in You Support Group, starting on Dec. 1, 2022, 1st Thursday of Each Month, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Denise Munir, 716-836-0822 ext. 169 or email at contact to register. Come get the support that you need because you matter.

Virtual Open Mic: Freedom of Expression, 1st and 3rd Thursdays, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Lisa Maria Cruz, 716-836-0822 ext. 520 or email at contact to register. People can freely express themselves through spoken word, singing, playing musical instruments, theater, dance and comedy.

Walk with Me, Addict 2 Addict, Family 2 Family Peer Support Group, Fridays, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Eddylees Guzman, 716-836-0822 ext. 164 or email at contact to register. We will meet with individuals with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and their family members to discuss effective communication, conflict resolution, trust building, co-dependency recovery and coping skills.

Hope Heals Family Support Group, Tuesdays, 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Sparks of Hope, 107 Main St, Hamburg, NY 14075. Alan Tomaski, or 716-931-0380 to register. Please wear a face covering for the duration of the group. As family members, our pain grows as we watch our loved ones suffering from substance abuse. The confusion on how to help can be overwhelming. Anger and fear become a part of our everyday lives.

Healing Families, every 1st and 3rd Tuesday, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Rural Outreach Center, 730 Olean Road, East Aurora, 14052. Alan Tomaski, or 716-931-0380 to register. Please wear a face covering for the duration of the group. Come join us for our peer family support group. We can help rebuild our lives after the devastation of substance use in our homes.

In-Person SMART Recovery, Thursdays, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Revive Wesleyan of Hamburg, 4999 McKinley Parkway, Hamburg, NY 14075. Alan Tomaski, or 716-931-0380 to register. Please wear a face covering for the duration of the group. (Room is open 30 minutes before and after group.) Our goal is to help individuals gain independence from addictive behavior and lead meaningful and satisfying lives.

Wellness for All Group, every other Friday, 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Amity Club, 340 Military Road, Buffalo, NY 14207. Randy Oaks, 716-836-0822 ext. 182 or to register. Peer support group for socializing. A pool table, dart board and television are available. Drinks and snacks can be purchased on site.

holding handsMental Health Support Group, Mondays, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Western New York Independent Living, 3108 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214. Marie Therese, 716-435-0238 or Open to anyone with any mental health challenge. Please call before attending for the first time.

An important note about the RSVP process and privacy: To maintain your privacy, we do not publicly share the phone numbers and links to our virtual meetings. We will respect people’s wishes to remain anonymous.

Why not?

Lisa Maria Cruz, MHPC Outreach Coordinator

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Cashew Shrimp & Veggie Rice Bowls

Prep Time: 15 minutes • Cook Time: 15 minutes • Serves: 4


  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large carrot, sliced on an angle
  • 1 - 15.25 oz can Green Valley Organic Whole Kernel Corn, drained
  • 1 - 14.5 oz can Green Valley Organic Cut Green Beans, drained
  • 3 cups cauliflower or broccoli florets
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 - 16 oz bag large, peeled and deveined shrimp, thawed and dried
  • 1-inch piece ginger root, peeled and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup roasted salted cashews
  • 2 cups of cooked rice
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • Sesame seeds for garnish

bowl of foodSteps

  1. In small bowl, whisk soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, and cornstarch to form sauce. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in large wok or skillet over high.
  3. Add peppers, carrots, corn, green beans, and cauliflower (or broccoli). Cook, stirring occasionally 4 minutes until vegetables start to brown.
  4. Add water, allowing vegetables to steam and soften slightly for 2 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp, ginger, garlic, and cashews. Stir fry for 2 minutes, add sauce, and cook another minute until shrimp is nearly cooked and sauce is thick and bubbly.
  6. Divide rice evenly between 4 bowls. Top each with stir-fry mixture. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.