RUTLAND – In its first in-person annual membership meeting since the COVID pandemic, Vermont Psychiatric Survivor’s Executive Director, Karim Chapman, told the staff and board members present not to be discouraged by the small turnout.

“There is some great work happening in the state because of what we do,” he said.

A lengthy afternoon discussion focused on the lack of participation, since VPS is a membership organization, but not enough members came to allow a quorum for voting on bylaws changes or board terms.

A subcommittee was established to address how to get the word out and to engage with the community.

In his comments, Chapman reflected that there were “a lot of people out there suffering every day,” and staff were helping peers to navigate the system and get the supports they needed.

“We had a rough time” as an organization in the past year, he said, with “some tornadoes that came our way. But we are here surviving; we are still here.”

He said that VPS has “lost its name” in terms of community awareness, but is doing active outreach in the community to rebuild and to be “advocating and fighting for people who don’t have a voice.” VPS needs to be “fighting for more funding” in order to hire more staff for the work it needs to be doing, he said.

“We all need to play a role getting the word out.”

Several staff also spoke about their work.

“I love what we do,” said peer outreach worker Walt Wade. “We’re there for the people who need us.” When you talk to peers, he said, “it makes you really aware how tough it is out there.”

Stephanie Kacanich described herself as “a fierce advocate for my peers in mental health and my peers in recovery” – but also for the people working with them.

“I have had too many friends die of this [drug] epidemic,” she said, because of “not seeing a way out; not having a hand to hold; seeing the only way out as suicide.”

She stressed that people don’t need support that is “one time and then we leave you,” but instead, knowing they can rely on someone being there for them. “I have my phone on all the time,” she noted.

The newest staff member, Mariah Sullivan, said she brought her lived experience as well as years of working on the clinician side of the mental health system. From both perspectives, she could “see so many of the flaws that are in the mental health system,” and she wants to help address them, she said.

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