April 25, 2023
In this series about CalMHSA staff – called Why Are You Here? – we offer a profile of our colleagues and why they’ve chosen to contribute their skills to the work we do.
Meet Will Taylor, Peer Program Specialist
“My orientation is toward hope.” That’s how Will Taylor describes himself and his approach to his work at CalMHSA.
For the last 13 months, Will has helped launch the Medi-Cal Peer Support Specialist Program. He comes to the work as a peer himself, having experienced his own journey in behavioral health, which included a Meet-Up group of peers who supported and understood each other.
“Peer support changed my life,” he says. “Breaking isolation and silence, realizing you’re not alone – that’s the power of peer support. To be able to find the humor in very difficult experiences with peers is priceless.”
Will’s role at CalMHSA includes policy development, customer service, team member support, researching and reviewing national and international peer support programs to inform California’s state standards for peer practices, and reviewing curriculum content from training providers during multiple RFP processes.
“I find that working at the state level can have a great impact on a lot of lives,” he says. “To do this work you have to be mission driven and really believe in it. The notion of recovery in mental health is transformative. I believe in recovery.”
Will brings years of experience as a peer support specialist and advocate to his role at CalMHSA. While working at an independent living center in Placer County, he met with county supervisors as well as state and congressional lawmakers to transform societal structures to be more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. As an affordable housing advocate, he was part of a coalition that secured county-donated land and funding in Placer County to build a 78-unit affordable housing development.
As a peer support specialist in Placer County, he worked closely with the county behavioral health department to create a drop-in wellness center based on the clubhouse model of peer support. He also advised the behavioral health director and system leadership on peer issues and created a speakers bureau that presented stories of recovery to over 3,000 people in the Sacramento region in a single year.
Currently, Will is looking forward to the next phase of the Medi-Cal Peer Support Specialist Certification Program, which includes training certified Medi-Cal Peer Support Specialists in three areas of specialization (crisis, justice-involved, and unhoused), and for which he wrote the landscape analysis reports used to identify core competencies.
“Empowering people who have been unhoused or formerly incarcerated, integrating the specific skills of crisis de-escalation – it creates opportunities for people to recover and create the lives they want for themselves.”
When he’s not supporting peers in their efforts toward certification, Will immerses himself in music, painting, museums, and other creative pursuits. He has been an out gay man since 1991, worked on political campaigns including the fight for marriage equality, and volunteered for StopAIDS San Francisco. And he keeps a close eye on societal trends.
“Despite our difficult historical moment, I have a lot of hope,” he says.