Earlier this month, Rachel (Peer Support Specialist) and Sarah (Peer Support Specialist Supervisor) attended the 2019 Alternatives Conference in Washington DC. Alternatives, which was founded in 1972, remains an entirely peer planned, organized and hosted conference.

Before the conference started the two were able to enjoy a very special part of this trip: seeing family members and old friends. Rachel’s son, who is stationed about 200 miles away in Virginia Beach, drove up to spend a day with her. Meanwhile, Sarah got to enjoy the company of old friends from Baltimore.

Once the conference kicked off they spent their first day in the Public Policy and Education Academy, receiving training on how to speak with members of Congress. They had a very busy next day on Capitol Hill, meeting with legislative aides from the offices of Senator Gardner, Senator Bennett, and Representative Perlmutter. They used their time to explain the roles of a Peer Support Specialist and describe the Colorado Mental Wellness Network’s mission and offerings. These DC offices are sure to never forget CMWN what with the charming personalities of Rachel and Sarah (plus the CMWN mugs, stickers and fidget spinners they left behind).

While taking a break between meetings in the Russell Office Building, a former Page led the two to the Kennedy Caucus Room, which he explained was where the Watergate Investigation was held. Rachel stood awestruck by the genuine gold Versace accents on the ceiling, as Sarah geeked out over the area where national news reporters do interviews with Senators.

Rachel with her first blue crab.

At the end of the day, our team also took time to focus on their own wellness: going out for Maryland Blue Crabs with two of Sarah’s long time friends from her days in Baltimore. Despite it being Rachel’s first experience with blue crabs, she seemed to enjoy digging and picking for the sweet crab meat. There’s even photographic evidence, if you’re interested…

The workshops at the Alternatives Conference were varied and exciting! Rachel and Sarah attended a workshop on the vital role Peer Respites play for folks experiencing mental health crises. This non-clinical model gives people an opportunity to stay in a home like setting while receiving support from Peers. Both want to bring a Peer Respite to Denver.

Uniting Social Justice Movements to Create a Positive Change explored how social justice movements might unite. The presenters gave a brief overview of the ADA and the way the different social justice movements can be more effective by working together.

Signs like this were posted all over the Alternatives Conference

The Alternatives to Suicide: A New Way to Understand and Support People Through Their Darkest Times examined the most prominent myths about suicide that permeate our culture. The presenters turned the concept of suicide on its head and offered an alternative framework that focuses on choice and creating space to talk openly about thoughts of killing oneself as the best pathway to staying alive.

A workshop that discussed the possibility of transformation within the American prison system was attended by Rachel. They talked about making connections with CO’s, Wardens and Peers in order to gain access to people who are incarcerated. The goal is for Peers to build relationships so that when people are released they can build bridges between themselves and their probation or parole officer. Peers would also offer community resource referrals like housing and employment and overall support.

The Alternatives Conference opened their eyes to services and programs they could bring to Denver. They are excited to take the information they received and put it into action in the communities that CMWN serves.

Rachel and Sarah in front of Senator Michael Bennett’s office
Sarah and Rachel with a Rep from Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s office
Looking Back on Alternatives