Network Spotlight: Strength in Peers

December 2018
Strength in Peers


Network Name Strength in Peers
Location New Market, VA
Key Contact Nicky Fadley, Network Director
Mission Strength in Peers is an organization comprised of individuals who have overcome substance use, mental health and trauma-related challenges. Grounded in our lived experiences, our mission is to offer hope, support and advocacy for those seeking recovery so that they can build resilience and thrive in their lives and communities.
Vision We envision a world where we have an abundance of recovery options and are supported in our right to decide our recovery path.

Nicky Fadley, Network Director of Strength in Peers, was interviewed by the Network TA team to share insights on building community buy-in and engagement.

In a nutshell, how would you describe your network and the project funded by the current Network Development grant?

We are a coalition made up of nonprofit and public organizations that provide behavioral health services in two rural counties in northwest Virginia. The goal of this project is to improve children’s wellness and resilience in one of the most challenging regions of our service area. The project integrates mentoring, counseling, primary care and dental services into our K-12 public school campus. Additionally, the project provides training and technical assistance in trauma-informed practices for our education, healthcare and social service providers so that they are better able to serve children with adverse childhood experiences.


What types of organizations are you partnering with?

We partner with two large hospital systems, one of which operates Critical Access Hospitals, a public behavioral health treatment facility, a free clinic and our United Way.


What network accomplishments are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the engagement we have from our members’ leaders. People at high levels of each partner organization attend our quarterly meetings and actively participate in the conversation.

I make a real effort to facilitate meetings in open, honest and transparent ways, and share everything I know about what’s happening in communities across the region. I spend at least a third of my time meeting with people who we serve and professionals so when I facilitate network meetings, I’m able to make connections between what our members are doing and other initiatives. This brings significant value to their attendance at meetings.


What are your biggest challenges?

Making sure that decisions made with leaders of member organizations trickle down to the people who provide direct services. I’ve learned that I can’t expect that when a senior leader agrees to do something, the information gets to the right people in his or her organization.

It’s imperative that network staff reach out and connect with people at all levels of member organizations. Building relationships at all levels not only promotes buy-in, but in a rural area, it helps us learn who’s related to whom and make personal connections beyond the work environment.


What advice would you give to other network leaders?

First, if you’re not getting out and meeting with people to form new connections, you’re not going to generate new ideas.

Second, and most importantly, don’t leave the individuals who you are trying to serve out of the conversation. We follow the motto “Nothing about us without us”. Not only does this make your programs more meaningful to your target population, it also makes you as a network leader that much more valuable to your members. They see you as a connection to the target population, with first-hand insight into what this audience wants and needs.


What role do you see networks playing in population health?

If we are truly going to improve the health of our community, we have to consider everyone in the community. Our network provides members with understanding about people they don’t often see and who aren’t connecting to services. Our members are so busy serving the people coming through their doors that they don’t have time to think about those who aren’t coming in the door. Our network finds new creative ways to prioritize and educate providers about the populations who aren’t coming through the door.


You have been able to inspire significant engagement and support from community members around the work of your network. How have you done this?

Our staff is made up of people in recovery and we approach community members as peers. We share our own stories and are willing to be vulnerable and open. This gives people a face and a voice to help them understand what someone with substance use, mental health or trauma-related challenges looks like. While it may sound scary, in reality, sharing your story is empowering. It also builds trust in relationships and allow us to make connections with others on a personal level, and by focusing on the turning points in our stories, we can inspire others to want to be part of the solution.


Can you tell us about a significant challenge related to community engagement that you’ve overcome? How did you tackle this challenge?

Our most significant challenge has been to get referrals from community organizations for our new services. This is our 4th year providing peer support services, and we’re still not getting the number of referrals we’d like.  

We’re addressing this by doing outreach at all levels of our partner organizations, particularly individuals who provide case management services, by showing them first-hand what peer support looks like and how a peer can help somebody.


Do you have any other advice for those looking to strengthen community engagement in network initiatives?

I can’t overstate the importance of trauma-informed practices. For many people, substance use and mental health challenges are rooted in trauma and adverse childhood experiences. It’s critically important for networks (especially those involved in behavioral health) to help providers see their clients through a trauma lens. Patients struggling with treatment plans, nutrition, exercise, etc., can be coming from a place of trauma. By using a compassionate, trauma-informed approach, we can help them feel motivated to make the behavioral changes that providers are looking for.


Your network has gone from being a program to an independent organization. What advice would you give to a network seeking to become their own fiscal agent?

Before going out on your own, really get involved in fiscal management activities and learn those ropes. Accounting and Human Resource practices are particularly important, as these are often overlooked and are critical to the structure of a nonprofit organization.


Click here to see a news clip about the school-based clinic created through the network!