Friday night in Oakland

was PEER’s first annual Gala: “Speak Easy Speak Out,” a 20’s themed event. The bar featured St. George Spirits, there were game tables by 2Go Casino Parties,  hors d’oeuvres, from La Boulange and Mika’s Cupcakes, a silent auction, a raffle and Live DJ. The event was at the California Ballroom on Franklin St. sort of hiding up some stairs, removed from the street. I walked in feeling like I had found a secret ballroom! Additionally tickets included 2 free drinks and $20 to play at the game tables, with and Salsamania Dance Company performed.peers gala3

This is what I mean, Oakland, about socializing with intention!

The Executive Director of PEERS, Lisa Smusz welcomed us all to the Gala, Mary Hogden Manager/Program Specialist at Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Servies spoke about  substance abuse and working in mental health. Toni Tulllys, Deputy Director of Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services elaborated on the importance of consumer run organizations.

The night also included Lisa Smusz’ presenting of the Courage Awards to  Senator  Darrell Steinberg (accepted by Robert E. Oakes, Executive Director of the The California Mental Health Directors Association) and Joseph Robinson, Program Director of the Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Consortium.
ginagoldblatt PEERS
It was inspiring to see people contribute in many ways, from bidding at the auction, to being present at the event to support PEERS and their mission. A photographer I spoke to documented the event and contributed a 3-hour professional photography session as a prize in the silent auction. Other auction items included a $200 value gourmet chocolate gift to give to one of your loved ones (or your loved self) and 2 Southwest roundtrip tickets to anywhere Southwest flies.

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For one thing, for a first annual event, PEERS sure knows how to put together an event that has the feel of years of tradition behind it. I’m realizing this is a trend. After attending Sexpo, I had the idea that there were people working at the organization that could really get quality ideas and projects off the ground and run with them- now I see that the organization is full of innovators and make-it-happen individuals. It’s not just that one of my very favorite people, Kelechi Ubozoh, works here and is making immense contributions, though this is also true, but that she is a part of an organization that deserves her.

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PEERS employees are passionate and hard-working. And the thing about PEERS is that it is a business run by peers. Everyone that works for PEERS has their own story. They are consumers in the mental health industry. In much the same way that you never want to go to a therapist who hasn’t been through his\her own shit and come out the other side stronger because of it -PEERS is an organization that boasts the same humility and strength at the individual and organization level.

Some of the innovative projects that PEERS initiated or furthered in the past year include a television show called Mental Health Matters, Peers’ Radio, empowerment Workshops for Transitional Aged Youth, along with the the following:


PEERS collaborates with Exploratorium on new exhibit about mental illness, normality


TAY Initiative honored with Alameda County Mental Health Board Community Service Award


Sexpoan amazing workshop on a woman’s right to sex and pleasure, with an empowering message about wellness including mental health and sexual health, and encouraging conversation around desire and being a survivor.  I had the opportunity to attend at UC Berkeley’s Empowering Women of Color Conference.

Shine: a PEERS-produced documentary about transitional aged youth and mental health challenges due to trauma received an honorable mention from SAMHSA’s Voice Awards and accepted into the 2014 Oakland Film Festival.

Stay tuned for the launch of the “I’m Good” Campaign, including blog launch and free kick-off party on April 26th. The Blog features stories from people who have had experiences with mental health challenges and become stronger through them. The campaign aims to increase visibility, community and a positive de-stigmatizing space to share, inspire, hope and empower. Yet another example of

Oakland using its voice.