LaGuardia Community College Launches Accelerated Training
to Address New York’s Mental Health Crisis
Tuition-Free Program is Funded by a $1.6M Federal Grant
Long Island City, NY (April 18, 2022)—LaGuardia Community College has launched a new accelerated training program to address shortages and inequalities in mental health services in New York City, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mental Health Peer Specialist Training Program prepares New Yorkers with lived experiences with mental health conditions to help others facing similar issues. Approx. 150 residents will be recruited from neighborhoods hardest-hit by COVID-19 for the program, to find individuals who will be able to closely relate to others in their community and add much-needed diversity to New York’s mental health workforce.
The program is free for trainees, who receive a stipend upon program completion, thanks to a four-year $1.6 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“We’re proud to help New York communities, particularly low-income neighborhoods that have been severely impacted by the pandemic, address urgent needs for well-trained, credentialed mental health professionals,” said LaGuardia Community College President Kenneth Adams. “Our Mental Health Peer Specialist Training Program will create a diverse workforce able to deliver culturally competent mental health care, offer much-needed employment opportunities, and provide an entry into the healthcare field for those without a college degree—perhaps setting the stage for them to come back and pursue a degree in the future.”
Mental Health Peer Specialists typically work side-by-side counselors and psychiatrists, or in peer practices. Through one-on-one counseling and group sessions, they teach coping mechanisms, connect people with resources and support, and offer emotional support.
LaGuardia’s eight-month Mental Health Peer Specialist Training Program includes classroom learning, followed by an internship at an employer-partner, e.g., NYC Well—NYC’s 24/7 mental health support hotline, CASES, the Institute for Community Living, Goodwill, The Bridge, Visiting Nurse Service of New York, and Baltic Street AEH, Inc. The trainees then get ready to take the New York State peer specialist certification. The first cohort is underway, with the students getting ready to begin their internships next month.
“The Mental Health Peer Specialist Training Program is helping me understand my past traumas and made me a better listener. People are going through so much these days, and sometimes they just need someone to listen without judgment,” said Leslie Flores, age 45, who will be interning at Baltic Street, a peer run center. “I know how impossible everything can seem when you’re going through a difficult time. As a peer specialist, I want to help bring mental health into the open and let people dealing with mental health issues know that recovery is possible. There is hope.”
“Not only has this program given me a purpose for the experiences I’ve had in life, but it’s given me a jump start on my career in healthcare,” said Kayla Haughton, age 23. “As a young black woman and a trauma-survivor, it has been hard for me to find a therapist who could relate to my experiences. I really needed a peer. I am doing this training while pursuing my bachelor’s in social work at Medgar Evers—there is so much overlap between both programs. Next month I will start my internship as a crisis counselor at Vibrant Emotional Health with NYC Well.”
Mental health issues have been accelerating throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among young adults. Even before the pandemic, New York had a shortage of mental health professionals—especially in areas with lower-income, largely minority communities. According to research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Queens has the fewest mental health providers of all five boroughs. And city-wide, Black, Latinx, and Asian American and Pacific Islander New Yorkers are less likely to be connected to mental healthcare than White New Yorkers, according to data from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health. These shortages inevitably result in untreated mental health issues.
“LaGuardia’s Mental Health Peer Specialist Training Program will build a diverse, knowledgeable, compassionate, credentialed and technically-skilled peer workforce prepared to engage and support their communities,” said LaGuardia Vice President of Adult and Continuing Education Sunil B. Gupta. “After earning their industry certification as a peer specialist, we hope that many will return to LaGuardia to pursue a college degree—setting them up for further career advancement.”
Classes begin on May 16, 2022, for the next cohort of the Mental Health Peer Specialist Training Program. For eligibility and more information, click here. Those interested in applying must attend an information session; signup here.
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About LaGuardia Community College
LaGuardia Community College, located in Long Island City, Queens, educates thousands of New Yorkers annually through degree, certificate, and continuing education programs. Our guiding principle Dare To Do More reflects our belief in the transformative power of education—not just for individuals, but for our community and our country—creating pathways for achievement and safeguarding the middle class. LaGuardia is a national voice on behalf of community colleges, where half of all U.S. college students study. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), the College reflects the legacy of our namesake, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the former NYC mayor beloved for his championing the underserved. Since our doors opened in 1971, our programs regularly become national models for pushing boundaries to give people of all backgrounds access to a high quality, affordable college education.
This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling 1.6 million dollars. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.