Staff Announcements, Success Stories

Andrea Bennett Receives Vinfen’s 2023 Peer Leadership Award

At Vinfen, we value those with lived experience as vital members of our community-based, residential, and clubhouse teams. While we encourage those with lived experience to apply for all positions, the role of peer specialist has been specifically designed to help people use their lived experience in the most constructive way possible to inspire independence among the people we serve. 

Each year, Vinfen presents a special Peer Leadership Award to recognize the outstanding achievements of a staff member with lived experience of a mental health and/or substance use challenge who has made significant contributions to the organization and peer movement. We are thrilled to announce that the recipient of the 2023 Peer Leadership Award is Lead Peer Specialist Andrea Bennett, from our Adult Community Clinical Services (ACCS) Team 3 in Lowell.  

Julie Anne Entwistle, Vinfen’s director of Recovery Services, praised Andrea, saying “Andrea was nominated for her proactive and enthusiastic role in mentoring peer specialists across the Lowell office—even before becoming lead peer specialist on her team last summer–and for her efforts in spearheading groups and collaborating across the Lowell teams.” 

Peer Leadership Award winners are nominated for outstanding job performance and leadership by their colleagues and/or supervisors, and winners are selected by a committee of Vinfen leaders. Criteria for selection includes: 

  • Promoting constructive change on issues regarding persons with lived experience 
  • Influencing the success of persons with lived experience 
  • Helping to bridge the gap between persons with lived experience and non-peers 
  • Supporting a greater understanding of the values of hope and resiliency as related to peers 

Andrea joined Vinfen in 2022, at a time when the peer groups that the ACCS team oversees were still virtual, as they had been since the start of COVID-19. As a facilitator of these vital resources for the peer community, Andrea was strongly motivated to bring things back in-person. “Isolation is a coping skill, but not the best one, and certainly not a great habit to develop,” she says. “I wanted people to get back together and get to know each other face-to-face.” 

The effort was a great success, and individuals are now coming together each week for a variety of group programs, including cooking groups that help people learn simple recipes, meal prep techniques, and general confidence-building in the kitchen; art groups where people can express their creativity through their own solo or collaborative pieces; and a game-playing group for the winter months which morphs into a walking group when the warm weather comes. 

Andrea also puts her lived experience with mental health conditions and substance use disorder to use as a resource for the clinicians in her ACCS Team. “As a peer, I have a perspective that allows me to connect with certain feelings and emotions present in other peers, things that the clinicians can’t always necessarily relate to on the same level,” she says. “I can act as an advocate for people and what they’re going through, and help direct the other members of the clinical team in a person-centered way.” 

This year’s Peer Leadership Award was generously funded by the LaPlume Family. OneCare Outreach Worker David LaPlume, a former lead peer specialist, holds this award close to his heart and is funding the award for the second year in a row in honor of his late mother and father, Pauline and Ronald LaPlume.  

Andrea says she’s honored by the special recognition, and that it has a tremendously positive impact on her to know that her contributions and those of the entire Peer Support team are valued. “Anyone who works in this field knows that it’s so fast-paced and challenging, and that as much as you do, you can always feel like there’s so much more that’s needed by those we serve,” she says. “Vinfen recognizing my efforts makes me feel really appreciated , and makes me want to continue to keep raising the bar and doing my best work.” 

All of us at Vinfen send our congratulations to Andrea! We thank her for modeling excellent leadership within the peer workforce and sharing her lived experience through peer support with the people we serve and across Vinfen. 

To learn more about Vinfen’s peer support services, visit https://vinfen.org/peer-support-services 

Interested in becoming a peer specialist? Apply today at https://vinfen.org/peer-specialist 

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