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A newsletter of Napa Valley Community Foundation

August 2012

School is back in session, which reminds us of all the group activities kids get to do together--activities that encourage them to learn from and support each other.


But, peer learning isn't just for kids on the playground or in the classroom.


In fact, many reputable nonprofits use peer-support programs with their adult constituents because these kinds of services can be an effective way to empower clients, help them feel safe in learning new skills, and give them role models who faced similar challenges and prevailed with a positive outcome.


For example, ParentsCAN, a local nonprofit resource center for families with disabled children, teaches parents how to navigate the complex web of health and education services, as well as advocate for their kids. The ones doing the teaching are parents themselves, who've already been through the ropes with their own disabled children and now help others do so.


Best practices of peer-based services include: 

  • Clients participate in designing program activities and the menu of services offered.
  • Clients create ground rules or agreements that establish parameters of decision making and communicating, and the clients hold each other accountable to these.
  • Organizations actively encourage or offer leadership development opportunities to clients that participate in peer-based services; doing so not only creates a pipeline for the agency, but also strengthens the broader community. 

This issue of Community Link highlights a grassroots nonprofit built on a peer-support model specific to adults with mental illness.


If you'd like to support this or any other effort, please complete a donor recommendation form and fax it to us at 254.7955.  Give us a call at 254.9565 if you have any questions.


If you'd like to read past issues of the newsletter, go to 



Julia DeNatale & Marla Tofle  

Philanthropic Services Staff


Circle of FriendsHealth & Wellness

Residents with mental illness support each other with their long-term recovery 


Agency:  Solano Network of Mental Health Consumers Circle of Friends

Support Needed:  $3,000

Purpose:  Operating expenses for mental health self-help program


"Nothing about us without us." That's the motto used by People Empowering People (PEP), a drop-in resource center for Napa County adults diagnosed with mental illness. PEP, which is run by a nonprofit called Solano Network of Mental Health Consumers Circle of Friends, functions entirely as a peer-led program. (Circle of Friends is incorporated in Solano County, but its only program is the Napa PEP.)


This means that everybody involved--from Board members, to staff and clients--has been diagnosed with mental illness. PEP's approach is based on a model called the consumer mental health movement, which emerged in the 1980s. It is grounded in the belief that consumers, or the clients, work well together toward recovery because they can relate through shared experiences and struggles specific to them.


Six years ago, the County of Napa contracted with PEP to run a drop-in center on the Health and Human Services campus, in order to provide additional support to patients in its Mental Health Division. About 45 consumers walk through PEP's doors five days a week; most are low-income and referred by the County, but others hear about it from nonprofits like Community Health Clinic Ole and Buckelew Programs.


PEP offers different activities each day, along with a light breakfast and lunch. Topics include: dual recovery anonymous (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, but for people that have both mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction); life skills support groups; nutrition, gardening and art classes; and outings to zoos or museums.


One of PEP's most popular offerings is a group that helps consumers track their recovery and identify steps to take during well times and when they are in crisis. A PEP staff person is on-call for consumers that need support after hours. PEP holds a weekly business meeting that is open to all drop-in consumers, who spend this time planning programs and activities; meetings are run according to consumer-established governing agreements.


PEP's $188,000 budget is almost entirely covered by its contract with the County and includes three part-time staff, plus three interns. However, PEP must raise money to pay expenses for food, outings, and gardening and art supplies, as well as special workshops led by experts in the consumer-driven mental health field. Your support will help adults with mental illness continue to plot their own course to recovery.


Solano Network of Mental Health Consumers/Circle of Friends

P.O. Box 4544

Vallejo, CA 94591


Contact: Suzanne Frank, Executive Director


Contact the Community Foundation