Akilah Williams is the program supervisor of the AdvocacyWorx program at HopeWorx, which provides individual and system advocacy services to adults involved with the behavioral health system. After making the momentous decision to change careers after two decades in the hospitality field, while pursuing an associate degree, she came across a flyer that advertised an information session for something called “peer support”. She could not believe that she would be able to take some of the most painful experiences of her life and use them as a beacon of light to inspire hope in others going through similar experiences. After being accepted into the free training, she became a certified peer specialist in the fall of 2018 and graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Human Services in May 2019. She currently attends Millersville University and plans to graduate with a Bachelor of Art degree in Social Work in spring 2023.
In addition to her own lived experience with mental health challenges and the criminal justice system, she has navigated the family court system pro se and is a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor. During her time providing direct service to peers in Montgomery County she has supported transition age youth and families. She has taken advantage of opportunities to increase her knowledge through numerous trainings such as self-injury, paranoia, intentional peer support, grief and bereavement, mental health advanced directive, and is a WRAP facilitator.
Akilah is dedicated to supporting those who are accustomed to being silenced by ensuring that they have the support of advocates with similar experiences and the opportunity to learn how to empower themselves to gain control of their lives and claim their rights.
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!
I’ve been working for HopeWorx for the past 14 years and find my job really rewarding. I proceeded to educate myself about addiction so I became a peer specialist. Because my story also includes jails, I became a forensic peer specialist. I have also completed the WRAP facilitator training. I wanted to learn anything that allowed me to help others help themselves. I am a big advocate for people who need help as I did to make a change. It’s never too late.
I think the biggest reality in getting clean was I had choices and didn’t know it. But one thing I know is I never forget that my disease is just around the corner and to stay on my journey to keep hope alive.
Anise Robinson-Milbourne, Advocate
CPS, FCPS, CRS, WRAP Facilitator
My journey at HopeWorx began when I was trying to find a job in 2012, after a minor forensic involvement. I walked into Hopeworx, not understanding Peer Support at all. Peer Support …this concept was never taught, explained, or even mentioned to me, at any time in my life. While attending the POWER program at Montgomery County Community College, I was approached by an advocate from Community Advocates, J.B. Brooks, who told me about peer support and encouraged me to apply for the training. Now I’m a Forensic Peer Specialist, working and growing every day. As a member of the Advocacy Team alongside Akilah, Anise, Vernon, and Julie I will continue to use my lived experiences to ensure the message of hope and commitment to my peers and reflect the dignity and respect HopeWorx embodies.
Hello! My name is Julie Whitmore, and I am a Peer Advocate for AdvocacyWorx. I am a proud dog mom to Peaches, whom I’ve had since she was a puppy and now, she is twelve years old! I enjoy taking her on walks and giving her lots of snuggles. I have three amazing nephews who just moved to South Carolina. We talk on the phone and video chat frequently. In my spare time, I enjoy socializing with family and friends, working on paint-by-numbers, gardening, reading, and listening to music. As someone who has mental health challenges, these are some of the supports and tools I use in my life to keep me well.
I am a Certified Peer Specialist and have taken many courses in mental health, including Intentional Peer Support, Emotional CPR, and Mental Health First Aid. I am trauma-informed and I am very aware of the resources in the community. I am the co-chair for Regional and Local Community Supports Programs (CSP). I am also involved in community workgroup meetings in Montgomery County and volunteer with a local non-profit for survivors of human trafficking.
As a Peer Advocate, I believe being encouraging, understanding, and compassionate are very important when assisting someone. I am an active listener and enjoy helping people problem-solve situations to support individuals in reaching their goals. I am passionate about promoting healing, and growth, and inspiring individuals to advocate for their voices to be heard and get what they desire.
I believe everyone deserves to have a life worth living and I enjoy being a part of that person’s journey.