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Choosing hope for herself and others.

For Heidi, it all started with a choice. After spending 15 years in and out of hospitals and the mental health system to treat a serious eating disorder, post-traumatic stress, and acts of self-harm, she had two options: become a permanent resident of a state hospital, or receive support in a group residence through Advocates. Heidi chose Advocates, and her life changed completely after that.

It’s been eight years since Heidi began seeing a therapist in Advocates’ Mental Health Residential division, and she hasn’t been hospitalized since. Now 44, she lives in her own apartment after spending two years in a group home, and volunteers for the local humane society. Several years ago, she began working as a peer specialist for Advocates as a way to give back to the organization that gave her hope for a better life – she now provides that same hope for individuals with similar backgrounds.

“Everyone in my life had given up hope for me,” says Heidi of those challenging years before she found Advocates. “My therapist [at Advocates] really held the hope for me when I didn’t have any for myself.”

Heidi says one of the most important elements of her treatment through Advocates is that she has always been treated as a person instead of a diagnosis, which wasn’t something she had previously experienced.

“I had lost touch with my dreams, values, and my sense of self as a person. But I have been able to regain those things, and connecting to peers has been crucial in my recovery.”

As a peer specialist for Advocates, Heidi visits group homes and individuals living on their own in the community. She focuses on using her story as a beacon of hope for others who are struggling, and emphasizes the Advocates mission to help people create fulfilling lives in the community of their choice – it’s all about building a connection to others, and to a place to call home.

“Treating people as human beings fosters a sense of being able to trust people and open up more,” Heidi says. “You learn your own strengths, and you learn that it’s okay to take risks.”

Today, Heidi continues to explore opportunities to grow, both professionally and personally. Her experiences receiving and providing support through Advocates give a unique perspective on the organization’s potential impact – her story is an example of the importance of building natural supports through connections in the community and outside of the mental health system to build a better life.

“My therapist always focuses on the fact that I’m the expert on myself. So I keep looking within myself to find what I really want and to find the support I need to get that done.”