Youth Peer Support Network Builds Resiliency and Confidence

Young woman riding a brown horse in a pastoral setting

Emma Goltz, shown here with Pablo, began riding horses at the age of six.

Maine Behavioral Healthcare’s YPSSN redefines youth and young adult mental health services in Maine

Preschool teacher. College student. Group facilitator. Public speaker. Equestrian. These are just a few of the roles held by Emma Goltz of Damariscotta, keeping her a busy young adult. At 23, she demonstrates a poise uncommon to people twice her age and attributes much of her success to the support she gets through the Youth Peer Support Statewide Network (YPSSN), a Maine Behavioral Healthcare sponsored resource open to any young adult in Maine.

In between classes and teaching youngsters, Goltz spends an hour each week with a youth peer support partner and co-facilitates a weekly Exploring Unique Experiences (EUE) group through the YPSSN.

Goltz’s experience with the network is one of acceptance and freedom to be herself, grow and make mistakes. “Sometimes, I may feel self-conscious and uncertain about the ‘best version of Emma.’ These people are there cheering me on, reminding me of all I have accomplished and that I am capable of succeeding. That’s powerful.”

Because the YPSSN serves youth ages 14-26, Goltz feels comfortable interacting with people her age that can identify with her experiences.

 “They care about the little things, like finishing a class or doing something with my work. When I have anxiety about something, they’re there to listen without judgment. I get a true sense of sincerity with peer support.”

– Emma Goltz

Asher Havlin, peer recovery supervisor, first met Goltz in 2018 at a youth activity group through the Maine Behavioral Health (MBH) peer program and Portland Identification and Early Referral (PIER) program. After graduating from the PIER program, Goltz began attending an Exploring Unique Experiences (EUE) group with Havlin.

EUE is a group where youth can openly talk about experiences, like hearing voices others don’t, seeing things others don’t, or having a hard time in the world. Noting Goltz’s skill, Havlin encouraged her to take on a facilitator role with the EUE group and is thrilled with the results.

“Emma uses her lived experience, empathy, and humor to foster an environment of openness,” said Havlin. “She doesn’t hesitate to ask hard questions when that feels warranted or to sit in silence when the situation calls for it. She challenges me to be more intentional and explicit about group power dynamics to switch up old patterns and make room for doing things in a new way.”

It took a while for Goltz to build confidence and determine how she fit into the group.

“I realized that I had hard experiences, but they were just different from others, and the group validated them,” she said. “We’re all here to support each other in different ways. There are no labels to get in the way of our unique journeys.”

Group of adults wearing masks, waving and celebrating together

Team members at the Youth Peer Support Statewide Network (YPSSN) grand opening celebration in December. Pictured L-R:  Randy Morrison, director peer services; Asher Havlin, peer recovery supervisor; Ariel Linet, YPSSN manager; Maria Hadjiyane, MBH COO; Deb Poulin, senior director, behavioral systems and integrated services.