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September 11, 2007

ASC Peer Recovery Education Program graduates celebrate their achievements.

Men and women struggling with addiction...Ex-offenders trying to re-enter community life...Homeless individuals...People living with or at risk for HIV.... Anyone seeking a second chance can find training, mentoring, support, and internships at ASC's Peer Education Program.

A crowning jewel of the program is our Peer Recovery Education Program (PREP). With an eight-week training followed by stipended internships, PREP paves the way out of public assistance and into the workforce. Each year, ASC sponsors 40–50 Peer Educators, who become role models for the people they meet through ASC's community outreach and education in homeless shelters, transitional housing programs, drug treatment programs, houses of worship, and pre-release programs for incarcerated men and women.

"Through PREP training and internships, Peer Educators gain experience in outreach, administration, data processing, and group facilitation," explains ASC Deputy Executive Director Brenda Starks-Ross. "Through supervision and support, participants learn how to manage conflict, dress for the job, handle paperwork, and stick with challenging projects. We teach them how to be part of the work force."

With just 18 months of recovery behind her, Alissa remembers herself as "very introverted" when she joined PREP in 2004. "I learned about myself in ways that were deep and uplifting," she says. "As a Peer Intern doing outreach, I got the chance to build my people skills."

Alissa soon advanced to co-facilitating ASC's HIV prevention presentations. When the opportunity to work as a train conductor at NYC Transit arose, she was ready. "If I hadn't come to ASC," says Alissa, "there's no way I would have been able to handle this job."

Edwin spent his PREP internship co-facilitating ASC's Safety Counts HIV prevention workshops and presenting on harm reduction. "PREP kept my mind occupied, kept me educated, and kept me on my feet," says Edwin. "It showed me a different way of life—being productive, giving back to society. The program helped me change my life 110%."

Today, Edwin works in the "maintenance in care" program at Saint Vincent's Hospital, bringing patients who have fallen through the cracks back into treatment. "It's a challenging job," observes Edwin, "but ASC gave me the experience and skills to become good at this work. My supervisors are very happy with my performance. They pay me good, but it's not really about the money. I have a mission to accomplish and I am determined to do it."

With one success story after another, ASC's Peer Education Program has built a strong reputation among agencies in search of qualified employees. "We train people so well, that they get snatched up by other agencies, including local hospitals and AIDS service organizations," explains Brenda Starks-Ross. "And at ASC, nearly one in four staff members are former Peers. Some have worked their way up to become managers."

"Our PREP graduates are our pride and joy," adds Starks-Ross. "They've gained the tools to give back, be productive, and remove themselves from the public welfare system. Our trainings build stamina, skills, and self-esteem so people can literally re-create themselves. That's expensive for us to do, but it's money well spent. After all, jail and rehab are expensive too."

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