Peers have been on the journey that patients are now struggling with. They can form rare bonds and break down barriers and help our patients open up. They usually get information we can’t from the patient, information that can provide valuable insight and can help the medical team assess the patient’s needs. – Stanford Addiction Medicine, Dual Diagnosis Clinic

Our Vision for This Program

Our vision for this program is to increase mental wellness and encourage independence for persons with a diagnosed mental health condition through the support of their peers. The Community Peer Program was created for those with a mental illness (Participant) who are motivated to establish stability, the capacity to maintain wellness, and the practice of self-care through mentorship from someone who has lived experience (Peer).

One Peer Mentor’s Journey

The direct integration of a peer (NAMI Mentor) during a person’s recovery has been instrumental in providing hope to individuals we provide with treatment in our Continuing Care Program.  – El Camino Hospital Mental, Health & Addiction Services

A pal, a peer, a mentor—everyone needs someone to lean on. For those diagnosed with a mental illness, having anyone in their corner when leaving a hospital, outpatient program, or jail can be the first step toward healing—especially when that individual has been down the same path.

No one understands that better than Ray, a Peer Mentor with NAMI-Santa Clara County, whose own path toward recovery was brutal.

Ray hadn’t spoken to his mother in ten years. Then she became terminally ill and Ray came home. “We became best friends, and I took care of her,” he said.

When she died in 2004, Ray had a psychotic break. He thought Jesus was talking to him through his mother’s dead body. “So I decided to put cookies in her mouth,” he said.

Delusional, terrified, and alone, Ray’s world completely collapsed when the police knocked on his door a week later. When they saw his mother’s decaying body, they arrested Ray, charging him with murder and defiling a corpse. He was booked into the Santa Clara County Jail and put on the eighth floor where those with mental health conditions are held. Eventually, Ray was placed in a padded cell with a suicide smock.

After three weeks, he was sent to El Camino Hospital in Mountain View where he remained for ten weeks. Ray then spent time in Fremont Hospital in Fremont. During this period, Ray lost his job and his mother’s home because of missed house payments.

He was ordered into Santa Clara County Judge Stephen Manley’s Behavioral Health Court. It took Ray three years to complete the court’s program requirements, after several tumbles with the law that put him back in jail. In 2008, Judge Manley gave Ray the opportunity to move into Julian Street Inn, a homeless shelter that addresses mental illness and substance abuse.

“I was homeless and angry, so I agreed,” Ray said. By then, his charges had been reduced to possession of a controlled substance.

After struggling for years with mental illness and drugs, Ray found the support he needed to get his life back on track. At Julian Street Inn, he learned about NAMI and its Peer-to-Peer program, and as Ray recovered, he became more involved with NAMI and started giving NAMI presentations at hospitals.

“When I was at the hospital, I shared how lonely I felt. That no one in the world was thinking or feeling like me. I wanted that person to know you were not alone,” he said. “I will stand by you and give you a hug if you need it.”

Ray, 57, became part of the first cohort to go through training to become a Peer Pal, now known as Peer Mentors. The experience has been as rewarding for Ray as the individuals he mentors.

“When I first meet someone, I only have a first name and phone number. I like that. I don’t want to know any more about them until I meet them. This way there are no preconceived notions. No bias. We all start from the same place. I want to get to know the person, and I am sure they feel the same,” he said.

What Can I Expect From This Program?

The peer mentor experience was a ‘gift,’ and I would tell others, ‘It’s a free program. You have nothing to lose, give it a try.’   

– Participant, NAMI-SCC Community Peer Program.

The peers in this program are NOT counselors or therapists. They do not fix, save, give advice, or set a participant straight in their time together. Instead, peers help establish S.M.A.R.T. goals, recommend resources that may assist the participant, suggest opportunities for social engagement, encourage self-advocacy with the participant’s providers, and outline potential areas for lifestyle adjustments. They share the journey of living with a mental health condition and work with the participant in taking steps towards their wellness and independence.


For up to four (4) months a Peer will provide support to the Participant in the following ways:

  • Two (2) calls per week from a Peer, lasting 15 – 30 minutes
  • One (1) visit per week, lasting 1-3 hours within the local community (Santa Clara County).
  • The Participant will set goals, practice self-care techniques, and become more independent.
  • The Peer will share resources, promote self-advocacy, and present options for growth.

After receiving treatment and following their doctor’s directions, the Participant will remain open to:

  • Attendance at support and/or recovery groups suggested by the Peer.
  • Identify and practice coping skills with the Peer that work best for the Participant.
  • Practice social engagement by meeting outside their home or occasionally for coffee/snack.
  • Adopt self-care routines that promote wellness and instill confidence in this Participant.

How Do I Request A Peer Connector?

Peer Connectors* are well-acquainted with the struggles, fears, isolation, and hopelessness that all who are experiencing a mental illness may face at times. They are in a unique position to relate with and understand their participant’s experience. We take great care to match peers and participants who will work well together in addressing the expectations of both. We are focused on the best match given the information we receive from the participant.

*Note: Only a person with a mental health condition may request a Peer Connector. NAMI-Santa Clara County’s Community Peer Program does not accept referrals to the program from family, friends or mental health professionals.


There are two (2) ways to submit your application to the Community Peer Program:


Community Peer Program
NAMI Santa Clara County
1150 South Bascom Avenue, Suite 24
San Jose, CA 95128

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