Written by: Tanis Oldenburger – Peer Project Coordinator
I have had many jobs at restaurant and offices where I have felt that I am easily replaceable, just an accessory employee, not valued for just being myself. I’ve even held employment positions with the word ‘peer’ in the job title. Still, I often felt like I was only there in a tokenistic role, as if the company had checked the box that they needed to show their funders that they employ someone who identifies as People with Lived and Living Experience (PWLLE).
While working on the CATalyst project, an initiative dedicated to showcasing each of the 35 Community Action Teams, I had the honor of interviewing peers all over the province, some of them were friendly faces who I have known for years and some of the interviewees have become new friends. These interviews have been inspiring, to have the opportunity to connect with and learn of the hard work and dedication that these peers demonstrate in their own communities.
In the 35 interviews conducted province wide, we asked the same question: What role do PWLLE play in the CAT? We heard about peer-led initiatives varying from administering OAT in cells, to the development of apps and drug testing kits, community gardens and connecting with local business associations, school districts and councilors.
We spoke with Troy Romanow, the Peer Coordinator from the Fort St. John CAT, and he said something during an interview that has really stuck with me: “I am now a community giver and no longer a community taker.” This quote represents what it looks like for PWLLE to be given the opportunity to work with other peers to engage in services that help improve the lives of the people in their communities.
I feel the exact same way about my addiction and recovery. Service is a huge part of a successful integration back into society after long periods of our lives lost in the throes of addictions and crime.
My position as Peer Project Coordinator with the Community Action Initiative has been the first job in my entire life where the team makes me feel valued, where I feel as though the work cannot be done without my guidance and the input of my expertise to ground the important work of sharing these CATs.
The team at CAI has taken a strength-based approach to my role in multiple projects as someone with Lived and Living Experience in both Mental Health and Addictions. This team strategy makes it possible for me to expand my skills and put them towards the CATalyst project. I feel as though working hard in this position can lead the way in smashing the stigma of PWLLE in the workplace and also to show that there are capacity building roles for PWLLE, we are here to work, and we are more than just our addictions and subsequent experiences but that we have many other useful skills to contribute, not just expertise on our lived experiences with these substances and the systems we are often forced to navigate alone.
I along with my team, is working hard and authentically to break down these barriers, like tokenism and stigma, to what Peer Positions look like and can look like. This new confident feeling of being so clearly valued by colleagues, lifts me up daily, and I will carry this with me through the rest of my career.