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Community Health Workers

Community Health Worker Peers talking

In 2015, the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice received funding from the Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) to participate in the "Supporting Male Survivors of Violence Demonstration Initiative."

Designed to promote creative ways to support young men healing from trauma, this OVC grant funded two pilot projects at the Center: the Community Health Worker Peer (CHWP) project and the CYPHER Community Engagement project.

In consultation with our staff and youth participants, these programs have since been adapted to serve the needs of survivors of violence regardless of gender.

Community Health Worker Peer Project

Since 2007, CNSJ and its Healing Hurt People (HHP) program have provided trauma focused healing services to over 2,500 young people in Philadelphia. As HHP grew and evolved, the program recognized the need to have a more culturally competent and multi-disciplinary workforce. Two peer workers, who were young survivors of violence and former HHP participants were hired in 2013.

This experience taught our Center several key lessons:

  • Peer service providers with lived experience provide a unique opportunity to develop trusting relationships and reach young people who have been excluded or mistreated by traditional service models. These peers also strengthen the team and services by adding a significant and powerful voice.
  • There was a lack of work opportunities for young survivors of violence being served in HHP and a dearth of front-line workers with the lived experiences of these survivors.
  • There was a lack of formal and evidence-informed training for peers who work in front-line community-based positions.

As a result, CNSJ developed and implemented the Community Health Worker Peer (CHWP)/ Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) Training Academy in 2017. The Training Academy is a nine-week, 165-hour, trauma-informed, mutual learning environment for young adults with lived experience of violence to become Community Health Worker Peers and Certified Peer Specialists. The Training Academy helps young adults grow into trauma informed, human services professionals who share life experience with their clients, break down stigma, and walk alongside people to help them access services.

Our Center has conducted four cohorts of the Training Academy with young people from throughout Philadelphia and have achieved outstanding employment outcomes. Through this experience, we have developed powerful partnerships with young people, organizations who serve youth, and direct service employers in the community.

Community Health Worker & Peer Specialist Training Academy

Drexel University's Community Health Worker Peer / Certified Peer Specialist Training recruits a new cohort every year.

This is a paid job training program for those who are interested in a career as a healer and helper in their community. Eligibility requirements include:

  • Live in Philly
  • Be 18-24
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be willing to share your experiences with violence, trauma, or mental health to help others

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CYPHER Community Engagement Project

The CYPHER (Community of Young People Healing, Experiencing, and Rebuilding) project is designed to bring resources and resilience to community members whose lives have been impacted by violence.

CYPHER is a culturally relevant group intervention based closely on the evidence-informed S.E.L.F. (Safety, Emotions, Loss, Future) trauma recovery groups.

The 10-session CYPHER meetings are guided forums for trauma-informed education and empowerment. Meetings are designed to be based in the community and facilitated by trained individuals who have lived experience of violence.

The goal of the CYPHER project is to build trauma-informed resources and resilience on both an individual and neighborhood level.

Young adults who complete the Community Health Worker Peer / Certified Peer Specialist Training Academy learn the skills needed to co-facilitate the CYPHER and help to deliver each CYPHER series in the community.