For this edition of our Peer Mentor Spotlight, we sat down with Iyanna “Ziona” Rivera, or Z for short, to discuss some of the impressive things she has been up to. Z first came on board with The NAN Project during our training at STEPS in Arlington. Ziona has helped out during school presentations, been an active contributor at our Summer Senior Peer Mentor Training, and has taken a leading role in the newly formed Boston Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition, known more intimately as Boston Youth Together. We had the time to sit down with Ziona and ask her a few questions, and here’s what we got!
So, Z, briefly tell us a little bit about yourself!
Well, I’m Ziona Rivera. I’m first generation American. I’ve been actively in recovery and the peer mentor movement since about 2013 or 2014 when I took a peer specialist training with The Transformation Center. I also published three books – and work as Executive Administrative Manager at Amron International Organization, founded by my mom and geared toward faith based recovery coaching and networking. I now work for The Nan Project where I share my recovery/hope story and provide prevention resources to young people.
You have a lot on your plate!
Yeah, but I don’t just do this stuff for work, or career — but for my recovery. I feel like if I miss out on a group, or a training, or a meeting, I might be missing out on something that can make me a little better… more functional!
How does the peer mentor position at The Nan Project fit into your personal goals? How have you benefited from being a mentor?
I always had this dream of going back to school and rewriting my story. Retelling the true story, not what people thought of me. I now have a story of hope, strength, survival, and resilience. I have benefitted from being a mentor by gaining tools to help others. I learned better ways to communicate about suicide and prevention, I learned about resources available everywhere and I met some great peers. I love working with the Nan Project; it is honestly a dream to be able to do the work we do.
That’s awesome! Through all of this — have you had a mentor?
My mother is my life mentor. I have followed her all throughout my life to her administrative jobs, her college experiences — I almost grew up to do office work! I learned everything I know from her, so now I am her apprentice and personal assistant. She is a reverend and holds an honorary Doctorate. She owns a recovery coaching business and she is also a Harvard graduate and alumni. I was introduced to the peer community and so I introduced my mom to the peer community, and we’ve been working alongside each other ever since!
What strategies do you use to deal with your own mental health?
I like to go to my therapist every week! Sometimes I miss an appointment, but I like to keep consistency in my life by taking my medication at night and going to therapy regularly. I also practice sensory therapy where I use certain scents and fabrics to balance my energy. Staying involved, volunteering, whether it’s at the homeless shelter, the women’s shelter, or through the peer movement keeps me “up.”
What is an example of something you did to help a student or a friend?
I have many friends that I counsel and that counsel me too. I help them in areas like finding and applying for housing, advocating to their support systems, financial budgeting, goal setting, and emotional support. When I’m applying for an apartment, I’ll tell my friends, “Hey — there’s an apartment over here for rent!” They’ll do the same for me, and let me know where I can get clothes for cheap or do my laundry for free!
It sounds like that sense of community is really important to you.
Yes, it really is!
What has your overall experience been like as a peer mentor for the NAN Project (challenges, rewards, etc.)?
The challenge is me being…not mobile. Not having my own vehicle. I can’t really get to everything that I would want to be involved with. That’s the only challenge, but I’m not letting it keep me back!
I have still been gaining the reward of rewriting my story, and being active in my recovery. Telling my story, I heal from it. Every time I tell my story, I learn from it. Things I didn’t notice before, or things I was afraid to share, I can now share and I’m a little stronger. I have benefitted from the few extra trainings since I’ve started with The NAN Project and I feel like I’m changing my past and literally rewriting my story.
The peer relationships, just having peers that have been through stuff and are doing the same thing I’m doing – trying to recover – sharing their stories, providing resources, breaking the stigma. Having that team.- I love it!
What do you hope for your own future?
I hope I can fight stigma in a more hands-on way. I want to team up with my generation, and pick up where the elders in our peer recovery community have left off. I have a lot of dreams, but my biggest is to have my own program to benefit low-income persons with disabilities.
What commitments do you have for the year?
My major commitments for the year involve work with DMH, NAMI’s Greater Boston Community Advocacy Network (GBCAN), The NAN Project, and work with a suicide prevention task force called Boston Youth Together. For now it is a collaboration of the Greater Boston Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition, Samaritans, The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors, and some high school students coming together to do awareness projects. We’re trying to provide resources for mental health, break stigma, provide hope and resiliency directly to the young people of Boston.
That’s great! What are some hobbies you have? What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to write, listen to music. Sometimes I do a little bit of exercise! (laughs) I watch movies, make jewelry, practice tarot cards. A lot of reading. I get to go to different worlds by reading.
What advice do you have for future or soon to be peer mentors?
The advice I have for future mentors is to open their hearts, let their guard down, and share their experience. Be brave! Once you’re comfortable enough to share your story, you’ll learn how much it can help someone else come out of the dark.
Excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Z. Keep up the good work and enjoy the rest of your busy summer!