A Peer Mentor Gives Back

“My name is Jerome Jenkins. At age 19, I experienced my first mental breakdown. There was help when I needed it, and now I’m on the side of providing help to others.”

Jerome came to know CHD as a client receiving services to support his mental wellness. Today he shares his lived experience with CHD clients as an embedded Peer Mentor.

Now 31, Jerome recalled what it was like when he was first diagnosed with a mental health condition. “My mind was out of balance and I didn’t have a clue why. I was anxious, paranoid and incapable of functioning normally in the community. As a result, I was committed to a hospital. It was my first such experience and I felt captured. I felt the need to escape.”

Following treatment, Jerome was released from the hospital and prescribed medicine and counseling to help manage his mental health, but he remembers feeling stuck with life. “I was no longer the strong, creative, fun person that my family and friends knew me to be,” he said. “I had become mentally weak, physically weak. I was incapable of working at my job in a home improvement store. I would avoid the customers, hide in my car, and hide in employee bathrooms. When my employer found out, I was fired. Then for two or three years I wouldn’t leave my mother’s basement. I put limits on myself and wouldn’t do things a person my age would normally do. It was a ‘Why me?’ type situation.”

Through a referral, Jerome was introduced to CHD and Candace Pennington, Program Manager for CHD Adult Mental Health/Springfield. “It was a blessing,” said Jerome. “Candy listened to what I wanted to accomplish in my life and was supportive of my goals and dreams. I remember that she laughed at my jokes! She didn’t treat me like a mental health patient.”

“Seeing how far Jerome has come makes me feel good about what I do,” said Candace. “Jerome came back to CHD to work for us at the time when the peer model was a new idea.”

The peer model concept is simple: people with lived experience of a given condition are uniquely positioned to provide support and guidance to others experiencing that condition. Because they’ve ‘been there’ and made substantial progress, they can help others to make progress in living successfully. In his role as an embedded Peer Mentor working at CHD Bonnyview House in Springfield, Jerome uses his lived experience to help clients see a way forward in managing their mental wellness.

“I work in a CHD residential program that assists people in their individual journey by being supportive of their goals,” Jerome explained. “We talk a lot about goals. I share things I’m doing in my life that maybe the clients can take on in their lives as well. We talk about how they should handle things, like relationships. We also do bonding activities, like playing basketball and eating together, to help us build a genuine relationship with the clients.”

Jerome continues to see a therapist and he’s doing well. Soon he will complete his Associate’s degree in Business Entrepreneurship at STCC. In a field study class, he connected with a mentor in music production who has taken him under his wing. He is looking for a second mentor to help with business.

“I want to work behind the scenes in the music business,” he explained. “My goal is to build a business by using social media to make impressions on a large number of people, start an e-commerce store, and get a music studio to do sound engineering.”
What advice does Jerome offer for young adults who aren’t completely comfortable with their own mental health? “It’s important to feel comfortable getting help that you need it, so when your emotional wellness isn’t right, ask for help. You should never be embarrassed to get help. Ask CHD. There was help for me when I needed it. And now I’m on the side of providing that help to others.”

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