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Leaving a Legacy with Lived Experience

Overcoming obstacles and defining one’s destiny are what drive Vinfen’s Adult Community Clinical Services (ACCS) Lead Peer Specialist Matt Griffin. He is a person with strong values that help guide him when helping others, and has a way of thinking that enables him to see the bigger picture while evoking change for the better.

Growing up Matt experienced a significant trauma. At the age of 11, he lost his dad suddenly to a heart attack without having a chance to say goodbye. Matt was engulfed by a heavy weight of guilt on his soul even though there were no signs of his father’s illness. Matt felt like he should have been able to save his dad. Matt also developed a stutter  during childhood and had a difficult time communicating. “I grew up stuttering my whole life,” Matt explained. As time passed, Matt faced multiple hospitalizations throughout his journey of recovery. Nevertheless, his life began to change after he started receiving services from Vinfen’s Transition to Independence Program (TIP) and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health’s (DMH) Gathering and Inspiring Future Talent (GIFT) Program, which ultimately led to him becoming certified as a Peer Specialist in 2018.

Losing his father was one of the hardest things Matt experienced. This loss fostered a deep wound around feeling immense abandonment. As a result, Matt would often abandon himself with isolation if things did not work out how he had hoped. With the encouragement to ponder his diagnosis of Bipolar disorder through contemplating and determining the life that he wanted, Matt started to understand what resources he needed in his mental health toolbox in order to be happy. This included the importance of trusting friendships in his life and having a deep sense of purpose.

Three years ago, Matt also experienced a major health scare when he developed five blood clots in his lungs as a result of  a kidney autoimmune disease. This happened just after he started working full time as a TIP Facilitator. His sickness did not dim his spirits and he continued to push through the pain. “Working was like the greatest thing at the time. It kept me going,” Matt voiced. Matt worked hard, received treatment, lost over 60 pounds, and now sees his future in a brighter light when it comes to his health. “I’m almost in total remission.” he shared.

Despite facing multiple challenges, Matt found his voice and began embracing public speaking. While in the GIFT program, Matt worked on his skills and strengthened his ability to communicate and work through his stutter. His confidence grew as he welcomed new opportunities for growth.  A few years ago, Matt was even the Emcee for a DMH Northeast Legislative Breakfast. “For a person who has stuttered since childhood, to be able to speak in front of all those people was awesome. It was something I never thought I would be able to do,” he expressed. Matt is also incredibly proud of himself for working as a TIP Facilitator, especially with being able to transition from a young adult receiving services into working full-time in the human services field to help others.

Now as a Peer, Matt thrives on training others and wholeheartedly believes in the significance of meeting people where they are at with a person-centered approach when it comes to one’s wellness and recovery. He believes in the power of being open, embracing learning opportunities, and the core values of a Peer. “We work in the mental health system, but we’re not outreach workers with lived experience. We are not like a role that was already done and we’re just bringing lived experience. We are a completely different role,” Matt explained. “It is the self-determination of the person I am supporting, I come in there with no directive of my own, and we meet on a place of mutuality. It is those three values that guide the relationship,” he added. Ultimately, Matt believes that instead of measuring how someone is doing with data and specific goals, he prefers to embrace someone by inviting them to share their experiences with him. “As a Peer, I try not to look at it as a diagnosis and symptoms. I look at it as what are you experiencing and what have you experienced, and to make that make sense within their own context.”

Matt has the ability to think critically and sees himself eventually as an administrator with the ability to see how programs intertwine to create a successful organization. He enjoys tracking outcomes, goals, and objectives, and figuring out the most efficient and organized way to do things. This passion is new to him and was found organically as Matt took on different projects within his current role in ACCS. Matt is also incredibly passionate about training others. “It’s a way to have a greater reach to help people,” he commented. His wish is to help foster people’s recovery values, which in time yields a beautiful ripple effect among a dedicated community of Peers. Additionally, Matt enjoys his role on the Massachusetts State Mental Health Planning Council’s Youth Development Committee, especially being able to advise on select DMH policies. He values being active, eating well, having an open mind to combat isolation, and being a part of fruitful friendships. With an inherent need to help others, Matt encourages people to look at their intention of why they are helping people and if their help is truly effective. “Helping is only helping if it is helpful. This reminds us that we all have the intent to help someone, and it doesn’t mean the process is helping, and it doesn’t mean the end result is helpful.” By this Matt encourages people to take a step back and evaluate their degree of helpfulness.

Matt is doing big things in his 28th year of life. This week he is transitioning from an ACCS Lead Peer Specialist to a TIP Peer Leadership Coordinator, and is extremely excited to have the opportunity to train other peer mentors. TIP is where it all started for Matt. “They helped me achieve the life I wanted,” he stated. Matt can think beyond societal norms, embraces change and growth, and believes in the importance of being vulnerable and uncomfortable, which can lead to teachable moments. Matt was also recently featured in a DMH press release regarding  his role as a presenter during DMH’s Supporting Young Adults in Reaching Their Goals: A Best Practice Forum this past fall, and was recognized for his outstanding leadership in peer mentoring. “Matthew is a true leader and I hope he inspires other youth to enter the field of peer mentoring,” said DMH Commissioner Joan Mikula. With an incredible mind and a warm heart, it is only a matter of time of to see what Matt takes on next in his life: a life dedicated to helping others.

Vinfen believes in the power of Peers! Want to work alongside Peers like Matt? Apply today.

(Photo by Roger Metcalf)