National Community Health Center Week celebrates the availability of integrated care to treat physical and behavioral health conditions for people in Arizona and throughout the country regardless of their ability to pay. There are 12,000 community health centers in the U.S., and collectively they save America’s health care system an estimated $24 billion per year while serving as an important safety net for citizens.
Behind these health centers are caregivers like Meghan Perez of Terros Health, a nonprofit company that provides whole health, integrated care to thousands of patients across the Valley and throughout the state.
Ms. Perez serves as a peer development specialist, mentoring, encouraging and overseeing all Terros Health’s peer support programs.
Question: What exactly do you do as a peer development specialist?
Megan Perez: In my role, I touch virtually every Terros Health program to amplify the voices of our patients. Specifically, I train our peer support specialists and patients who are interested in using their personal stories to work in the field and help others on a similar journey.
Q: What prepared you for this work?
MP: While I have a formal education in psychology and ministry, as well as 15 years working experience in behavioral health, my role calls me to use my lived experience as the most applicable training. I tap into what it means to be a trauma survivor, and a rape and abandonment victim to work from a platform of resiliency and connection. My role equips others using our shared experiences in personal and familial addiction and loss to share messages of hope and empathy to those who need to hear that joy is possible on the other side of pain. I use the events in my past, such as being hit by a truck at age 14, to align with and understand challenges that others might be experiencing.
Q: How did these events shape your future?
MP: Turning points often come through pain. For me, this was when I lost my partner at age 23 and became a single mother. I decided that the situation needed to change. I didn’t want to replay the past, so I had a major part in rewriting my future. I began refusing anything less than what I wanted. I not only began rebuilding my life, but demanding the life I wanted for myself, my children and my siblings, who came to live with me.
Q: Were there setbacks along the way?
MP: Absolutely. I was working in behavioral health, but not necessarily successfully. I would lose jobs because I wasn’t reliable. People did not know they could count on me because I couldn’t always count on myself. That’s when I started reflecting on the positive impact I could have others. There were hard lessons along the way, including that to take care of others I must take care of myself. I was worth it.
Q: How specifically did you break the cycle of trauma and abuse in your family?
MP: For starters, I found faith. I realized that I am loved, and that enabled me to put the trauma
I had endured into perspective. I realized that I am not strong because of my past, but rather because I can empathize with others who have been in similar situations. I look at people not from a perspective of what is wrong, but instead what happened to them. I can intimately understand the pain that leads to unhealthy decisions and help intersect with tools and resources to lighten the load on other people going through similar situations.
Q: How do you guide others on a similar path to recovery?
MP: It starts with finding your purpose. Mine has always been to connect with people on a human level — to help them find hope, form relationships and establish connections. Self-care is also critical. From time to time, I battle negative feelings, but I confront them head-on by taking care of myself and working to make the best decisions in my life. I try to inspire those around me to do the same.
Q: Sharing the past undoubtedly is painful. How do you encourage others to do this as part of their recovery?
MP: We all have a story. Sharing our experiences can change the course for us and for others. This helps us stay true to ourselves and encourages us not to be afraid of opinions or judgments.
This Q&A was provided by Terros Health. Meghan Perez is a peer support coordinator at Terros. Learn more at terroshealth.org.