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Peer-to-Peer Mentoring at Work

Peer to peer The workday is about to begin and the milieu at #25 Linnell is abuzz with Individuals and staff preparing for the busy day ahead. At the table designated “Chelmsford High School” Ryan Poisson is keeping an eye on things. “I make sure the crew members stay at the table and don’t wander off,” says Ryan. “It’s a way that I can be helpful.”

Ryan works independently at Chelmsford High, assisting the head janitor during the school day and helping the athletic department in the afternoons. His deep knowledge about the facility—he attended CHS and graduated from there in 2009—means that he can assist the Valley work crew and their job coach. “Because I know the place so well I can tell people where things are located or what the schedule is,” says Ryan.

Adult Services Program Coordinator Matt Gentile describes the role that Ryan plays in the Today and Tomorrow Program as peer-to-peer mentoring. “It’s really the nature of the program. People are looking out for each other,” says Matt, who previously worked at Valley’s Alternative High School as a guidance counselor. The supportive nature of the community also means that Individuals are encouraged to step into leadership roles if they’re interested. “You’ll see higher-functioning Individuals going out of their way to look out for their lower functioning peers so that their voices can be heard,” says Matt.

Peer-to-peer mentoring can also be a source of support for Individuals who are making the transition to independent employment. When Jeremy Cyr started a new job at TJ Maxx in Chelmsford this summer, he had a friend from the Today and Tomorrow Program there to offer help if he needed it. Melaina Chaput has worked at TJ Maxx for 13 years—she currently oversees the dressing room—and says she was thrilled to find out that a member of her Valley family would be joining her at work. “Jeremy is my buddy. I’m happy to help him out,” says Melaina.

With her long experience working independently at the store, Melaina was able to show Jeremy the ropes, including helping him punch in and out and explaining to him that breaks are timed. “The transition to independent employment can be a big adjustment,” says Matt. “Melaina’s assistance has really helped Jeremy settle in and keep him on track.”

Melaina says that the role of mentor is one that has come naturally to her. “I try to be helpful in a way that’s friendly.” That’s exactly what Jeremy says he appreciates about having a friend from Valley at work. “She’s nice,” says Jeremy. “She helps out.”

Back at the Chelmsford High School table, Ryan is making sure that the members of today’s crew are ready to head to the van. And they listen. “The other Individuals see Ryan as someone who works independently and so they look up to him,” says Matt.

Matt says that he’s hoping that the sort of peer mentoring embodied by Ryan and Melaina can become a more formal part of the Today and Tomorrow Program in the future. “When Individuals start seeing themselves as leaders, it means that they’re taking their jobs seriously,” says Matt.