Kim Renninger is the Director of the AdvocacyWorx program at HopeWorx, which provides individual and system advocacy services to adults involved with the behavioral health system. She has worked in the mental health field for over a decade, previously working for Magellan Health as a Peer Recovery Navigator and for the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania as an External Advocate at Norristown State Hospital. Kim has experience working with adults and children from diverse backgrounds in various settings and has been active in the consumer/survivor/ex-patient and troubled teen industry survivor communities.
Kim obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Alvernia University in 2009 and completed the Certified Peer Specialist training in Montgomery County in the summer of 2012. She is the current co-chair of the Montgomery County Community Support Program Advocacy Subcommittee, the Norristown State Hospital Human Rights Committee, and the Ferns Peer Respite Advisory Council, as well as serving on numerous other committees. She is also trained as an Intentional Peer Support Organizational Trainer and a Mental Health Advanced Directives Trainer. As a survivor herself, she has a passion to affect systemic change within the behavioral health system and to advocate for the rights of others who have historically not been given a voice in their own lives. She lives with her husband, stepson, son, and Australian Shepherd, and enjoys spending time with her family and close friends and in nature.
My name is Ellen Kozlowski and I’ve been an advocate for many years. An advocate is someone who stands by you. supports you, protects you when needed, listens and defends when necessary. I started when Community Advocates of Montgomery County first opened its doors in February 2006 when Kathie Mitchell was Director. We are now going on our 16th year. Our name has changed to AdvocacyWorx, and we have expanded our team under the leadership of Director Kim Renninger, but we still have the same mission to support adults in mental health recovery by encouraging and promoting self-advocacy, self-direction and independence.
I love my advocacy position and it has truly changed my life, all for the better although there have been difficult moments as many people who call for assistance are in great distress.
I love the responsibility of my job, and feel quite at home in my blue-painted office that I have had for quite a few years now since we moved our offices from the State Hospital grounds in Bdg. 6 to our offices across the street at 1210 Stanbridge Street, Suite 600, Norristown PA. To me my office is a sacred space as many people call in need and I try to be there for them if it be to offer support or maybe it’s offering resources. Support could entail really listening and often emphasizing that I have been through the Montgomery County Mental Health system myself. I am very thankful for the many county resources I have used - the residences and hospitals, therapists, clubhouses and case managers were there when I needed them. But, as in any system, there are gaps and needs that aren’t met, especially when trying to access some services.
I am what Sue Shannon, our Executive Director of Hopeworx Inc. our parent company, calls the warm line for Advocacy Worx. I take calls as they come in even for our forensic calls, i.e., people who have some kind of criminal charges plus mental health issues. The forensic calls I pass on to our Director Kim Renninger and our main forensic advocate usually Vernon Steed. I enjoy listening and try to get all the details on any calls that come in.
Our Self-Advocacy Trainings are a hallmark of AdvocacyWorx. I was part of a group of peers and the Consumer Satisfaction Team staff that assisted in the development of this training and I have been part of the instructional team since the beginning. The Self-Advocacy Training reviews the attitudes, knowledge, and skills needed to be a successful self-advocate. Many people, well over 1,200, have benefitted from these trainings, and we have heard some great success stories from people who applied the training to their own life circumstances where they needed some assistance in speaking up or communicating more clearly or effectively.
In our Advocacy Department, we attend meetings to support systems advocacy to help keep the public mental health system vibrant and accountable. I do legislative advocacy, contacting legislators on important mental health issues and we do that in our systems advocacy work as well. I am a member of the Montgomery County CSP and SE Regional CSP committees. I have participated in the CSP meetings for the whole time I’ve been in Advocacy and see the Advocacy subcommittees as an integral part of our job.
I am a former Technical Assistant for the SE Regional CSP Committee where I carried out some administrative duties for the committee. I especially felt that as the current pandemic hit that getting out emails to the committee on different information and resources was something concrete I could do during a panic driven time and many people thanked me for the information.
My name is Vernon Steed and I am a Forensic Advocate at AdvocacyWorx.
On April 2018, after my release from state prison, I went to the Public Defender’s office to meet Chief Public Defender, Dean Beer, to keep my word that, once released, I would come in and do as much as I could to give back. I had just served 32 years of a life sentence for an accidental homicide. That November, Hopeworx reached out to the Public Defender’s office, looking for a candidate for a Forensic Advocacy position. Dean thought it would be the perfect fit and recommended me and I got the job.
I began working at AdvocacyWorx in January 2019. This position gave me the opportunity to follow my passion for giving back to others. I am able to use my story and what I’ve been able to overcome to inspire hope in others. In August 2019, I acquired my Peer Specialist certification, which helped me to enhance these skills. Part of my role at Hopeworx is teaching a re-entry class in the jail and community, which has 14 modules on topics ranging from understanding the criminal justice system, trauma, distorted thinking, and stress and anger management. I also talk to people and family members individually who are dealing with the criminal justice system. I can be an ear for people when they need someone to listen to them. I never wish anyone to feel like they are alone and there is no one there to help them. I know that feeling of despair all too well. That’s what motivates me every day to get up and do my job! I don’t know who I would’ve been if that act hadn’t happened, but I know that I’m proud of who I’ve become because of it.
One bad choice can change your life, but it doesn’t have to define you!