Why I Love Being a Peer Mentor
~ by Kate Olson
"In my 20s I began to realize I wanted to do more and be more independent. I had a talk with my mom and she supported my idea of moving out on my own and doing more. Once I did, it changed my life and made me want to become more independent and help other people with disabilities become more independent, however they want to."
Peer Mentors are people with developmental disabilities who provide guidance, support and resources to help others achieve the life that they want. Peer Mentors are dedicated to helping others to reach new levels of independence and inclusion in their communities. They are ready to partner with you and help you advocate for the life that you want and deserve.
The Peer Mentor Program is based on the philosophy that people learn best from others who have lived experience to share. That connection of shared experiences and mutual understanding builds a strong foundation for planning for a person's future.
People age 16 and over who have a DD waiver can have a Peer Mentor to help them in achieving their goals.
Through special funding from DBHDS, there are limited spots for people who are on the DD Waiver Waiting List to receive support from a Peer Mentor.
How To Sign Up for a Mentor
FIRST - Complete an interest form to tell us a little more about you and your goals.
SECOND - Choose the right mentor for you. Get to know the mentors below and then schedule your Consultation with Natasha Cooper to help match you with the right mentor.
Contact Natasha Cooper
Peer Engagement Director
804-649-8481 Ext 103
Talk to Someone Who Has Been Where Your Are
Meet the Mentors
Mentors have received training from The Arc of Virginia and are ready to help.
Finding the right match is key. Read the profiles below to learn about the Mentors and decide who can best help you to reach your goals!
Not sure who is the best match? Contact Natasha Cooper to get help choosing the right match for you.
804-649-8481 Ext. 103
Where I Live: Fairfax County
About Me: My name is Linda Booth and I have been living with a disability since I was born. I do not see my disability as a weakness, in fact sometimes it is a superpower. Why would I say that? Because I have been able to see the world from a unique place. Life does not have to be complicated. I am able to use the way I learn to break things down into small pieces and create a life that is rewarding.
Hobbies & Interests: I have a lot of hobbies and interests. In fact, when I lived in Spotsylvania, my parents built me my own little store where I could sell my products. I love to do cross stitch, crochet, knit, and a little bit of sewing. I never got my store off the ground, because it was challenging to figure out how to balance my “benefits” with income. So now, I give my work to friends and family on special occasions. I also love my “fur babies” I have a Papillion, which in French means Butterfly, but for me means little dog named Mr. Tokyo. Tokyo has two sisters, both cats—one named Toshi and the other Suki. (I pick Japanese names because I half Japanese and half American.)
Mentor Skills: I bring a couple skills to the role of peer mentor.
Good listener: This is important because a lot of people do not feel like they are heard when they are sharing their thoughts or feelings. I am good because I can sit and listen and I do not “judge” people.
Good Planner: I am very organized. I realize that this is very important, because being a person with a disability there are lots of demands on you. I can help people prioritize what is important for them and help them stay focused.
Know my community: Even though I have not been in Fairfax for close to 40 years, I am good at directions and figuring out what services are in my community. I can help others do the same.
Understand the importance of budgeting and benefit management: Keeping a budget on a limited income is hard. I get some support with this as well. BUT I have learned how to prioritize my purchases and work with my support team to make good choices. This is important.
Areas of Expertise:
Long Term Planning: Parents and self advocates need to start planning for life when the parents are no longer able to care for oneself.
Lots of life experience, nothing shocks me—so it is easy for me to listen and not make someone feel badly.
Helping people with self care—you can not take care of someone else, unless you take care of yourself.
I know my way around a house—can help people with keeping their homes in order.
I know lots of ways to get around—I drive, I know how to use bus and even Virginia Railway Express.
Open to learning new things…
Communication: Easy to talk to and good listener
City Where I Live: Springfield
About Me: My name is Jonah Gilman. I recently moved into a group home in the past year right before the pandemic. Before that I lived with my family. I enjoy playing a variety of games on my iPad. I'm very social and love meeting new people!
Hobbies & Interests: Games, languages, hanging out with friends
Mentor Skills: I am a good listener. I am good with helping people fill out online forms. I am also good at socializing with others and making them feel comfortable with new experiences.
Areas of Expertise: I speak both English and Spanish. Navigating Metro Access (paratransit service) to get around the community. Helping people learn how to use technology.
Communication: I use verbal communication to communicate with others
Other: I utilize a power wheelchair
City Where I Live: Christianburg
About Me: My name is Matthew Hudgins, I live in Christiansburg, Virginia. I am here to lend a helping hand to all who need it, no matter who you are or where you come from! If you ever need someone to talk to, I will be there for you. I will treat you as if you were my own family. I have two little Chihuahuas Duke & Poppy and I have raised them since they were puppies.
Hobbies & Interests: Fishing, gaming and playing in video game tournaments, acting, computer efficiency and learning how things work. Working for and building items for Hexed Haunted House, building battle bots, creating YouTube videos.
Mentor Skills: I am very good at planning ahead of time, I have 18 years of working experience including the food industry and Virginia Tech.
Areas of Expertise: Public Transportation/RideShare, Independent Living
Communication: Verbal Communication
City Where I Live: Richmond
About Me: I am a person with Autism and a native of Richmond, Virginia. I have many interests and hobbies, one of them is my ability to tinker with computers and help people with their computer problems. Another one is my ability to DJ Events whether they are in person or virtual. I also have a love for all kinds of music, but I have to say my favorite is 70’s Disco. I also enjoy going to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Camping in the mountains when I get the chance. Over the years I have served on several nonprofit boards in many different capacities. Over the years I have taken various classes on becoming a more effective leader and advocate for people with disabilities. One thing I would like for everyone to know is “People with Disabilities Have Many Different Talents and Abilities. Give Us A Chance and We Will Show You All That We Can Do!”
Hobbies & Interests: Music, hosting & DJn parties, camping, beach, education
Mentor Skills: Good listener, Problem Solver, Resourceful (utilize internet), Leader, Advocate
Areas of Expertise: Public Transportation/RideShare, Natural Supports
Computer Troubleshooting, Education, Working & Interview Skills (employed at Panera for over a year and in food service over 15 years), Living Independently in privately owned condo
Communication: Verbal Communication
City Where I Live: Richmond
About Me: My name is Brittney Lee, currently I live in Henrico County. I enjoy uplifting people with disabilities and giving them the strength to look within themselves to find their destiny. It provides character to the individual and willpower to overcome any barrier that is challenging in life. For many years I worked in the mental health field to provide services to individuals in need. I take anything I do very seriously and even completed some college business courses. As your mentor I am here to help you find your strength and guide you through your journey.
Hobbies & Interests: I enjoy writing, collecting coins for different states, I like to go shopping and I also enjoy volunteering
Mentor Skills: Motivating Mentees to do well in areas of interest
Areas of Expertise: Exploring and researching personal interests, Self-Advocacy, Navigating Transportation, Indepedent Living.
Communication: I use words to communicate
Other: I use a wheelchair to commute in the community. I use specialized transportation for transporting and I use words to express myself.
City Where I Live: Roanoke
About Me: My name is Shay. I live in Roanoke, Virginia. I am a Radford University graduate with my degree in Social work. I am a down to earth person who believes that every individual has potential and has the right to live the life of their choice. Through self- exploration, personal empowerment, self -advocacy, and my life experience, I enjoy assisting people with disabilities discover their potential. Currently, I am a Youth Transition Coordinator for a Center for Independent Living.
Hobbies & Interests: I enjoy spending time with family and friends, listening to music, spending time at the movie theater, and I am a big basketball and football fan, and I love to cook. I am a Community Advocate as well.
Mentor Skills: Empowering Mentees to be their best selves and encouraging them to do well in their areas of interest.
Areas of Expertise: Self-empowerment, Self-advocacy, Independent Living skills and Community Advocacy.
Communication: Verbal with words.
Other: I am a motorized and manual wheelchair user who utilizes Paratransit services to navigate the community.
City Where I Live: Richmond
About Me: I am a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a Master's in Social Work. During my education, I worked in legislative advocacy through an internship in the Virginia General Assembly. I also completed the Partners in Policymaking program and interned with the Partnership for People with Disabilities. I am the current chair of Virginia Advocates United Leading Together (VAULT). I utilize my lived experience to support others with disabilities to live their lives as they choose.
Hobbies & Interests: I consider myself an extrovert who excels in group projects and team environments. I enjoy brainstorming and coming up with ways to “Fight the Man” and I have a deep passion for creating change. Fostering cats & kittens with Richmond SPCA, movies, game nights.
Mentor Skills: Rebecca enjoys using her lived experience as a disabled woman to empower others with disabilities to live the life of their choosing.
Areas of Expertise: How you can successfully navigate the community as a wheelchair user. Working with GRTC for community navigation. Navigating Higher Education and Grad School.
Communication: Verbal with words
Each Peer Mentor works for a Provider Agency who supervises their work and coordinates the services for the mentees, ensuring that everyone has the best experience possible. Currently there are two provider agencies.
To learn more about these agencies, click on their logo!