Keynote Speakers

Conference Details


National Empowerment Center

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Friday Night Dinner and Opening >> 6:30 - 8:30 pm

Cathy CaveCathy Cave: Peer Support and Cultural Attunement

This keynote will link the human qualities of caring, compassion, and empathy to cultural attunement, defined here as "action taken to understand and adapt to another’s values, priorities, and approaches to connection to create relational alignment.” Participants will learn about how the values of peer support - connection, caring, choice, mutuality, empathy, and compassion - create cultural attunement.

Cathy Cave, founding partner, Inspired Vision, LLC; co-director, SAMHSA’s Program to Achieve Wellness. Cathy provides technical assistance on trauma, cultural competence, wellness, and peer support through the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health, The Mental Health Empowerment Project, governmental agencies and advisory bodies, coalitions, and human service organizations throughout the country. Formerly the director for cultural competence in New York, she uses her survivor, family, community, provider, and administrative perspectives to facilitate organizational change at local, state, and national levels.

Brenda VezinaBrenda Vezina: Creating Trauma-Informed Healing Communities

The Six Principles of a Trauma Informed Approach include examples of safety, trustworthiness, empowerment, collaboration and peer support. This keynote will explore the data to connect the audience to the prevalence of trauma, the signs, and the dedication as a healing community to resist causing any further harm. The presentation will include day-to-day steps that help build trauma-informed communities and celebrate all efforts in raising our collective aptitudes.

Brenda Vezina is director of the Central MA Recovery Learning Community, where she focuses on relationships that support a person’s recovery from trauma. Her expertise is in building trauma-informed practices in organizations using the research of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs). She is executive producer of the documentary, What Happened to You?, that speaks to the causes and effects of childhood trauma and their relationship to public health. Brenda shares her own recovery story, and has been published in the blog, You Call Me Crazy. I Call Myself a “9”.

Saturday Morning >> 8-9:30 am

Darby PenneyDarby Penney: The Lives They Left Behind

This keynote presentation will discuss the ‘Suitcases in the Attic’ project. Using contents of abandoned suitcases from a state hospital attic, this presentation depicts the lives of many people who were in the hospital in all their complexity and individuality. The letters, diaries, photographs, and personal mementos speak to aspirations and accomplishments, and to loss and isolation. The keynote will serve as a frame for many other conversations as the suitcase owners’ experiences are still quite relevant today. For more information on the exhibit, visit:

Darby is a long-time activist in the peer support movement. She has had great impact serving in multiple positions including a decade in the role of Director of Recipient Affairs in New York. She is a Senior Research Associate at Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. (AHP) in New York State, working to demonstrate the value of Intentional Peer Support. She has co-authored numerous articles and books, including Engaging Women in Trauma-Informed Peer Support: A Guidebook, and The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.

Erin LevesqueErin Levesque: Culture, Community, and Healing

This presentation will discuss the value of having a connection to culture and heritage. This is a story of a Native Alaskan woman who lost connection with her cultural heritage. She will talk about the emotional impact of not being allowed access to her native language or traditional practices. Come learn about the healing power of community and the powerful process of reclaiming one’s full cultural identity.

Erin is a Unangan woman (Alaskan native) born into a cultural vacuum. Using the wisdom gained from some of her most difficult experiences, Erin offers support throughout the community. As a lesbian and mother of four racially mixed children living in a small town, as well as a member of an indigenous group, she has become passionate about all the intersections of race, poverty, power, trauma, and emotional distress. She is part of the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community’s leadership team.

Sunday Morning Youth Panel >> 8-9:30 am

Culturally diverse youth leaders unite to inspire and educate Alternatives 2017 attendees in ways to develop and support the next generation leaders in the field of mental health. You will hear their experiences which provide insight and information related to engaging youth, starting youth groups, and adult peer partnerships. This panel of youth will highlight the great work being done by youth peers to improve systems and continue to support other young people experiencing mental health challenges and trauma.

Emily Sheera CutlerEmily Sheera Cutler will highlight the importance of self-acceptance and neurodivergent pride. She will talk about her journey of learning to accept and embrace herself as an Autistic person, a person who identifies as queer, and a trauma survivor.

Emily is a survivor, a neurodivergent woman, and a consultant organizer for Alternatives 2017. In addition to working at the National Empowerment Center, Emily is an editor for the web magazine Mad In America.

Danny KochanowskiDanny Kochanowski will offer a valuable discussion on creating more room for extreme emotions and experiences in clinical settings. As someone who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition and has been is a peer advocate, he will discuss the importance of addressing extreme emotions such as sorrow, anger, and guilt with curiosity, compassion and kindness.

Danny is a former Active Minds President and Community Bridger at the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community. He uses his own mental distress and interactions with those in locked psychiatric units as motivators to envision a world where people facing challenges are not stripped of self-autonomy, and have immediate access to resources that lead to a more fulfilling life.

Angela Y LawAngela Y. Law will talk about cultural barriers and mental health. She will share her history with mental illness and statistics on health in the Asian American community and LGBTQ community, as her identity encompasses both. She is passionate about the need for more compassion, understanding, and research to benefit Asian Americans and other communities of color.

Angela is a youth writer, educator, and activist who hopes to find healing in herself and others through narrative. She is a guest blogger for TEAM: Together Empowering Asian Minds, a national public awareness campaign. Angela uses her own narrative on surviving depression, anxiety, and trauma to inspire others.

Kimberly MarquezKimberly Marquez-Cortes will share a story of being a second-generation trauma survivor who by chance found herself in a WRAP group run by someone who, like Kimberly, was both young and Latina. This experience showed her the power of peer support and meeting others who were “like her” both in age and ethnicity. Hear how Kimberly uses her voice to reach, engage, speak and provide hope to other youth.

Kimberly is a student and peer specialist program trainer in California. She is the youngest person to become an Advanced Level WRAP facilitator in the world and co-authored the Youth WRAP book with Mary Ellen Copeland. Kim’s efforts and strong advocacy work were recognized by Alameda County with the Transition Age Youth Leadership Award. She serves as the Youth Cultural Diversity Representative for Doors to Wellbeing's National Youth Advisory Council.

Ryan TempescoRyan Tempesco will talk about being an openly transgender young male who also is confronted with mental health challenges. In denying who he was, Ryan faced overwhelming stress, anxiety, depression and fear. He hopes by sharing his story, he can support others who find their spirit threatened by secrets they can’t afford to maintain. Through speaking out on behalf of the trans community and for anyone who is forced to “keep secrets,” Ryan believes people will come to understand positive mental health is dependent on living one’s truth.

Ryan is an openly transgender male advocate for the Mental Health and LGBTQ+ Community. He is invested in raising awareness to eliminate discrimination within both communities. Ryan is a youth trailblazer for VOCAL, Youth MOVE VA, a local peer run wellness center, and Doors to Wellbeing’s National Youth Advisory Council as a LGBTQ+ Representative. He works as a Certified Peer Specialist and Peer Bridger for Chesapeake Integrated Behavioral Healthcare.

Jonathan GibbsJonathan Gibbs will talk about his experiences dealing with bipolar disorder and recovery from drug and alcohol abuse as a teenager. This story will highlight ways to prevent and recover from mental health issues and to be able to use these challenges to do positive work in the community to provide hope for young people.

Jonathan provides significant organizational skills and strategies for youth. Working with all age groups from elementary to high school and those bound for college, he is certified in Advanced Youth Development and has nine years experience educating and working with people in the mental health field. Jonathan seeks common ground and searches for self-improvement and ways to enhance any team with whom he works.

Monday Morning >> 8-9:30 am

Lynnae BrownLynnae Brown: Free Your Mind and the Rest Will Follow – Reframing the Incarceration Experience

This keynote will discuss how reframing personal story is a potent self-advocacy tool for formerly incarcerated people, helping to repair relationships, gain employment, change policies, and improve restoration strategies and services. Peer values provide an anchor for the reframing process and strengthen Forensic Peer Specialist work as well as the Decarceration Movement. She’ll provide examples that explore how reframing the past provides access to a new identity, new opportunities, and ultimately a new life. 

Lynnae is Director of Howie The Harp Advocacy Center - a peer run job training center in NYC. In overseeing their award-winning Peer Training program, Lynnae has repeatedly witnessed graduates reframe their stories through education, self-directed recovery tools and peer support to create new lives. Her foundational role as a storycoach for The Moth was featured in “Negotiate Anything” podcast (Ep: Feb 9 2017). Her insights about wellness at work were published in Beth Kanter’s “A Health Happy Non-Profit.” She has also appeared in Brave New Film’s “This is Crazy: Criminalizing Mental Health.”

Shain NeumeierShain Neumeier: LGBTQIA, Autism and Intersectionality

The histories and experiences of the neurodiversity and LGBTQIAP+ communities are intertwined for a number of reasons ranging from gender and sexual identities to the ongoing experiences of trauma. Respect for the identities and recognition of the unique support needs of neurodivergent LGBTQIAP+ people has only recently come into focus. This presentation will discuss both these developments as well as the ongoing challenges facing people belonging to both communities.

Shain a talented writer, visionary, scholar, and activist, is a member of the Massachusetts, Oregon, and New York bars and has tremendous passion and commitment to mental health recovery. A graduate of Smith College, they  co-founded the Asexual Communication and Education Club, and then attended Suffolk University Law School. Shain has worked for the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center, the Massachusetts Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, the Massachusetts Disability Law Center, and the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth.