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A peer mentor is a volunteer with a disability who assists people with similar disabilities. The peer mentor helps promote personal growth by sharing their own experiences and explaining how they have coped with the "ups and downs" of having a disability.
In the case of a person with a newly acquired disability, the peer mentor helps with the radical change in life style that is often forthcoming by offering emotional support, helping solve problems and sorting out life goals. Staff mentors act as coordinators of the peer mentor program, interviewing interested persons and providing peer mentor training. Upon completion of extensive training, the coordinators match the volunteer peer mentor with a peer and provide supervision and support throughout the process.
A 40-hour peer mentor training program covers basic concepts of communication and counseling skills. The concepts range from responding sensitively to the feelings of a person, understanding body language, and recognizing the importance of confidentiality in relationships, to learning positive effects of certain confrontation techniques.
The training increases assertiveness and lays a solid foundation for better communication techniques in everyday life. The peer mentors have ample opportunity to practice their newly learned techniques during the training.
Peer mentors often visit persons with disabilities in hospitals, nursing homes, and the community to provide them with a new support system. If an individual chooses to become a consumer at one of the centers, the peer mentor will continue to provide them with this support system.
Each center has peer mentors available on staff to provide ongoing support. Volunteer peer mentors may also be assigned to help a consumer reach maximum independence and self-sufficiency.
Peer mentors act as facilitators and participants in support groups. Support groups meet on a monthly basis and inspire individuals to take sensible risks, try new things, improve knowledge of their own disability, and share coping skills; they also provide a valuable network of social contacts, resources and role models.
If you are interested in becoming a Peer Counselor or receiving Peer Counseling Services, contact the West Virginia Center For Independent Living nearest you.