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Sounding with Compassion
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Maggie Walker, 2010-11 PATH Consumer Provider Network (PCPN) Chairperson, speaks with Neil Greene from the PATH Technical Assistance Center about the PCPN. The PCPN consists of men and women previously eligible for PATH services and now employed by PATH-funded agencies. Founded in 2008, the mission of the PCPN is, “To ensure that consumers have a voice and are involved in the planning, design, and delivery of PATH at the local, State, and national levels.”
In this article, Maggie Walker, 2010-11 PATH Consumer Provider Network (PCPN) Chairperson, and Neil Greene from the PATH Technical Assistance Center paint a picture of the PCPN experience. They encourage PATH providers and peer providers to learn more about involvement with the group. They discuss their favorite moments, the qualities that make a good fit, and the challenge of scheduling it all.

The PCPN Voice
As Ms. Walker explains, “Being a part of the PCPN gives me a bigger voice in how people’s needs are met.” Her proudest accomplishment as a member shows this enhanced voice, “My favorite thing we’ve done is an outreach presentation at the PATH Grantee Meeting. We all had such a good time showing what we know best—street outreach.” In this presentation, PCPN members role played beneficial and poor outreach strategies, and led a discussion with PATH providers. It was the highest-rated session of the 3-day meeting (2010 PATH Grantee Meeting Minutes).

Joining the PCPN
Ms. Walker describes her introduction to the group, “My involvement began in early 2009 when my supervisor received information about the PCPN from our County Department of Mental Health. She thought I would be a good fit and encouraged me to submit an application.”
Ms. Walker wanted to share her experiences with other providers and in turn, to learn from others. She met the requirements for joining, which are:
1.   Members must be employed by a PATH program and work on PATH activities;
2.   Members need to have a personal history of homelessness and mental illness; and
3.   Members must have employer support for participating in conference calls, periodic projects, and infrequent PATH-funded travel.
Ms. Walker believes another characteristic makes a person a good fit for the PCPN—compassion. She says, “You work in this field because you have compassion and an understanding of what it is like to be where these folks are, and it’s not just about the money. We have experience living in the shoes of the people we are serving.”

Why Should People Join the PCPN?
Consumer providers should join the PCPN because they want to share their experiences, network with others from around the country, and have a voice in the national PATH program. As Ms. Walker recounts, “I feel blessed to be a part of this elite group and all its wonderful members.”

Overcoming Challenges
The PCPN members have a variety of positions in PATH programs, e.g., caseworkers, peer-specialists, and administrative coordinators. These responsibilities can occasionally make it difficult to fit in additional work. Ms. Walker describes the challenge of finding the right balance. She says, “There is a balance between your own work and having time to contribute to the group. I have been able to balance both, but it is not always easy. Sometimes it can be difficult when you have to be out in the field.” To get around this problem, occasionally she takes calls while pulled over in her car on the side of the road. Other times, she relies on her peers to carry out tasks in her absence.

Current PCPN Members
Current members of the PCPN are René Buchanan (Ocean Park Community Center, California); Carmen Gonzalez (South Central Regional Mental Health Center, Montana); Michael Kelly (Housing for New Hope, North Carolina); Tyrone Pitman (Pilsen Wellness Center, Illinois); and Chairperson Maggie Walker (Salvation Army Open Door Program, California).

PATH Resource
Needham, MA