|Introducing the 5050 Peer Helpers
College students experience different issues in their daily lives, ranging from common problems like homesickness to more extreme problems like substance abuse and eating disorders. Some students might find it difficult to talk with a therapist, but may open up more with one of their peers. For that reason, LVC has created the 5050 Peer Helpers program, a group of three current students trained and supervised by counseling staff professionals to help students tackle less severe issues.
Now in its second year, the group aims to create a comfortable environment in which LVC students can speak one-on-one about their problems with a nonprofessional who can help them talk out solutions or give advice based on past experiences. This year’s Peer Helpers are Cameron Venable ’14, Liz Borgia ’13, and Karly Siffin ’14. They are overseen by LVC’s director of counseling Dr. Stephanie Falk.
“We look for people that are leaders among their peers that are personable and easy to talk to – but not necessarily psych majors,” Falk said. “They’re outgoing, but they’re vulnerable. They’ll say things like, ‘Hey, that was tough for me, too. I don’t have all the answers.’ Then they can sit and work a problem out together and brainstorm.”
Peer Helpers are trained on helping skills, stress, anxiety, grief, depression, alcohol and drugs, sexual health, sexual orientation, eating disorders, self-injury, sexual assault, and suicide crisis.
“When I think of what the 5050 Peer Helper program is about, I see it in three components,” Falk said. “The first is supportive in the way that we work one-on-one with students that come in. The second is its outreach, where our helpers are going out and educating on things like sexual assault, alcohol and drug education, and suicide prevention. The last component is marketing. They go out and market themselves around campus.”
The group regularly organizes programs during common hours in Mund, including education, screening, and prize giveaways for larger events. Some of the larger programs include eating disorder awareness and National Depression Screening Day. They are also available to speak with campus organizations by request.
“We are very ready and willing to do educational programs around campus,” Siffin said. “If people want to use us, we have programs developed for drug and alcohol education, sexual assault prevention, and suicide prevention. We will come out and do talks and interactive educational presentations.”
For more information, contact the 5050 Peer Helpers directly at 717-867-5050 or email@example.com. They work out of the second floor of the Shroyer Health Center.
Below are introductions to this year’s Peer Helpers with some insight into why they chose to interview for their positions and what makes them positive influences.
Cameron Venable ’14
Venable is one of two students who served as Peer Helpers last year. The group had a successful year in attracting campus attention and helping LVC students through a wide range of issues, so it became clear that with increased office traffic, a third position would have to be added this year.
“Originally, there was an e-mail sent out to people around campus to recommend students to join the program,” Venable said. “I wasn’t one of those people recommended, but a friend told me it’d be perfect for me. I e-mailed Stevie, and she gave me an interview.
“I looked into it because I like talking to people and understanding people. It helps me to hear other people’s problems because sometimes I have the same problems. Talking to them about the problem helps me sometimes, too.”
Venable is a biology major with a Spanish minor with plans to work with animals rather than humans after graduation. Still, he’s been an enormous asset to the group and could have a career in counseling if he chose to change paths, Falk said.
As its only male member, Venable finds that a lot of males are more comfortable opening up to him about their problems. He also works with students facing Asberger’s and with campus RAs. He has helped spearhead the OASIS initiative (Overcoming Awkward Situations in Schools), in which students with Asberger’s and other issues hindering socializing can meet and discuss ways to move past their own hesitancies.
“With me, I always keep a friendship tone,” Venable said. “I don’t have a degree, and I know I’m not a professional. I’m a support system to help you help yourself. I never talk down to people because I am their equal.”
Liz Borgia ’13
Borgia, a biology major, plans to become a pediatric physician assistant after graduating and joined the Peer Helpers to learn strategies for dealing with future patients in the doctor’s office.
“Everyone has their own experiences, advice, lessons that they have learned along their journey through life, and I believe that by sharing some of your stories you could really help people out,” Borgia said. “I just enjoy listening and being able to help people that are just looking for someone to talk to.”
A self-described “people person,” Borgia uses her outgoing personality to connect with people around campus through a variety of activities – though many people know her as a starter on the women’s basketball team. For those reasons, she works in large part with athletics and Greek groups, organizing outreach programs.
“The outreach programs and spreading awareness about different issues is important,” Borgia said. “There can never be enough information for peers about common issues such as alcohol awareness, sexual assualt, and suicide prevention.”
Borgia is quick to invite people to Shroyer Health Center when she thinks they can benefit from a visit. She emphasizes that Peer Helper meetings are confidential and stresses the comfort level involved in speaking with someone your own age, but she can also add a personal spin.
“Personally, I have used counseling services before, so I would share how my own experiences there have helped me in more ways than one,” Borgia said.
Karly Siffin ’14
Siffin is a psychology major with a sociology minor who met Falk through working with the Women’s Services and Gender Resource Center and acting in the “Vagina Monologues” together. Like Borgia, she enjoys the outreach aspect of the Peer Helpers.
“When I heard about the 5050 Peer Helper program, I was interested in not only the résumé building aspect of it, but also in using this as an experience in helping others and helping myself,” Siffin said. “When I came in to interview, I realized that it was more than just counseling, and there were also outreach parts.”
Upon graduation next year, Siffin will look to enter graduate school in forensic psychology. Her involvement in 5050 has made her a more confident public speaker and a more influential voice in one-on-one conversations.
“I look at myself as a sounding board, here to help students talk out a solution to their problems,” Siffin said.
Like Venable, Siffin is an RA and organizes outreach throughout campus housing. She also schedules programs with the Women’s Services and Gender Resource Center – a campus program in which she remains heavily involved.