Virtual Community Forum:

How the Power of Lived Experience Changes Lives

Peers play a valuable role in addressing mental illness and substance use disorder in our community. Peers have lived personal experience with mental health issues and drug and alcohol use, so they are able to connect with people in a deep and unique way – different from a counselor or psychiatrist. Peers, some certified as Peer Support Specialists and Family Partners, are integrated into our system of care. They lead support groups, serve on treatment teams in clinics, support families, and mentor people in the community. Peers are vital to supporting recovery, reducing stigma and, most importantly, providing hope and inspiration.


Join Integral Care and NAMI Central Texas on Wednesday, May 20th for a special virtual Community Forum that explores the power of peers. Panelists Shannon Carr, Executive Director at Austin Area Mental Health Consumers, Nidia Heston, Family Partner Coordinator at Via Hope, Valerie Milburn, Presenter at NAMI Central Texas and Board Member at Communities for Recovery and Mackenzie Ulam, President of NAMI on Campus at the University of Texas, will discuss:


  • The role of peers
  • Their personal stories
  • How peers improve outcomes

Deborah Rosales-Elkins, Integral Care’s Mood Treatment Center Peer Support Specialist, will moderate the panel.

In Partnership With


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Time (CST):

1:00pm – 1:45pm:
Panel Discussion

1:45pm – 2:00pm:
Q&A after Panel Discussion


Registration details for the webinar will be sent in advance of the forum.


Shannon Carr
Certified Peer Support Specialist
Austin Area Mental Health Consumers


Shannon Carr is a Certified Peer Support Specialist in Texas. For the past 18 years, she has been Executive Director for Austin Area Mental Health Consumers, which supports and advocates for a consumer’s right to achieve mental wellness, self-empowerment and self-sufficiency. Shannon currently serves on the Texas Peer Support Stakeholder Workgroup and in other advisory roles, promoting wellness and recovery. She is a motivational speaker, church ministry leader, and singer in a gospel group. Shannon is also the chair of the 21st annual Central Texas African American Family Support Conference planning committee, where she has held a leadership role for almost 20 years.

Nidia Heston
Master Social Worker
Via Hope


Nidia Heston is a Master Social Worker and Master-level Certified Family Partner in Texas. She is the Family Partner Coordinator at Via Hope overseeing training and certification for providers of parent peer support. Nidia has worked directly with families for over 20 years navigating systems of early childhood/education, mental health, intellectual/developmental disability (IDD), and the medical community.  She has volunteered with several community organizations including NAMI Central Texas and connected with families through a project that provides bilingual advocacy training and support for people living with IDD. Her passions are helping families understand the impacts of trauma as well as building resiliency. She and her husband have lived experience raising a son who lives with autism, ADHD, mood disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Valerie Milburn
Recovery & Mental Health Advocate


Valerie Milburn, a recovery and mental health advocate, has been an active member of Austin’s recovery community since 1999. As a person in long-term dual recovery, she devotes her time to reducing the stigma that surrounds substance use and mental health disorders. Valerie is a volunteer with NAMI Central Texas, a presenter for Ending the Silence and In Our Own Voice, and a peer-to-peer class mentor and state trainer. She also serves as a member of the Board of Directors and volunteers as a peer recovery coach for Communities for Recovery. Valerie has received the Presidential Service Award four times for her volunteer commitments. She is a former educator and curriculum writer, and began her career in marketing and advertising after graduating with a journalism degree from The University of Texas at Austin.

Deborah Rosales-Elkin (Moderator)
Peer Support Specialist
Integral Care


Deborah Rosales-Elkin joined Integral Care Mood Treatment specialty clinic as a Peer Support Specialist in 2018.  She worked for NAMI Texas in 2016 as a Hogg Foundation Peer Policy Fellow, the focus of her position was to have the opportunity to learn the legislative process to move Mental Health Policy forward in Texas. Prior to joining NAMI Texas, Deborah worked as a Mental Health Advocate at Texans Care For Children, a Program Coordinator and Trainer for the Children’s Mental Health Partnership, a Clinic Manager and Staff Development Trainer, and a consultant trainer for the Center for Health Training and the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She has a BS in Human Services and an MA in Human Development from the University of Saint Mary’s at Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mackenzie Ulam
NAMI-UT Austin Campus


Mackenzie Ulam will be a senior this fall at the University of Texas at Austin where she will serve as the President of NAMI On Campus. Through that program, Mackenzie has received training from NAMI Central Texas and facilitates peer support groups on UT’s campus. She is also a part of UT’s Mental Health Peer Education program that spreads the word about campus resources and gives workshops to student groups on topics such as stress management and resiliency. Mackenzie is employed by UT as a peer mentor where she leads a seminar for first year students that is dedicated to easing the transition from high school into college. In her spare time, Mackenzie volunteers with Crisis Textline as a Crisis Counselor. Mackenzie will graduate with a Bachelor’s in Psychology in May 2021.

Register to Attend

Community Forum - IDD - 05202020
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