Election Section

Commentary: CIL Peer Counseling Provides an Essential Service By RUTHANNE SHPINER

Friday June 24, 2005

I am a person with a disability (spinal cord injury status post—20 years) who has been living in the Berkeley area since 1993.  

During that time I have accessed the services CIL provides on multiple occasions for varying reasons. I am writing now out of serious concern that a key service CIL offers the community may be deleted. The peer counseling program headed by Phil Chavez is rumored to be slated for extinction. This would be a mistake of gargantuan proportions. First and most importantly, the mission of CIL is to have persons with disabilities provide services to like situated members of the community. That philosophy is the crux of the independent living movement which itself was born in Berkeley. Peer counseling delivered to members of the disability community by other disabled members of the community is critical. Peer counseling encompasses a breadth of comprehensive life style issues that by definition can not be absorbed by other services CIL offers, even if those services are provided by persons with disabilities. Issues such as finding and managing attendant care, establishing solid friendships post disability onset, issues of family reaction to one’s disability and sought for independence, sexuality, establishing the requisite skills for battling government agencies for benefits, plus health maintenance such as basic bladder and bowel care and pressure sore prevention can not be absorbed adequately by say the housing or employment position at CIL. There must be an established role for performing peer counseling. 

Secondly, Phil Chavez is an institution unto himself having been an advocate for the disabled and employee of CIL for over thirty years. His reputation precedes him. I have been a member of the peer support group he runs and not only was it immensely valuable, Phil is inextricably intertwined with how the group functions. The group can not be the same in his absence by definition. In short, Phil is not a fungible item that can be easily and readily replaced.  

If CIL is to remain loyal to its mission it is crucial that both Phil Chavez and the peer counseling program he heads remain as is. Budget cuts are tough for every non profit institution to have to confront and address. Board members must address this challenge without deleting the critical function peer counseling serves at CIL. Ed Roberts would turn over in his grave were he to witness this.  


Ruthanne Shpiner is a Berkeley resident.