Peer Support: Career Opportunities for Diverse Populations

For Hadyyah Williams, resiliency is a way of life. An Asheville native, Williams spent her youth in foster care. She experienced anger and depression, eventually landing in psychiatric residential treatment facilities, hospitals, group homes, jails and homeless shelters.

Now 23, Williams is making the most of the years to come. Through the Asheville nonprofit Green Opportunities (GO), she has earned her GED, found steady employment and plans to enroll at A-B Tech in the fall. Thanks to a partnership between GO and Vaya Health, with a grant from Mission Health, she’s also completed Vaya’s Peer Support Specialist (PSS) Training and is awaiting state certification.

Her personal motto reflects her determination. “If I get through things the first time, it will be easier to move on than the second time around,” Williams said. “And it won’t hold me down twice as strong.”

In January, Vaya facilitated PSS Training for 21 participants at GO’s Livingston Street headquarters as part of efforts to work with community organizations to reach diverse populations. GO’s mission is to train, support and connect people from marginalized communities to sustainable employment pathways, which now include PSS certification.

Michael Hayes, GO’s YouthBuild job developer and a certified peer support specialist, said stigma in the black community has discouraged people from openly discussing mental health and substance use issues. “It enlightens other people to say, ‘I want to seek help,’” he said. “And when they seek help, I want people available who look like them, so they can open up and get the help and support they’re looking for.”

Williams, Hayes said, “is a shining example of what we hope to achieve at Green Opportunities.” She wants to become a psychiatrist and is open with her peers about the struggles she’s faced – it gives her motivation for herself and to share with others.

“One person’s testimony,” she said, “can change another person’s life.”

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