In Honor of Cheryl MacNeil
Like so many in the peer support community, I am deeply grieving the passing of Cheryl MacNeil due to a form of cancer that she fought bravely and openly.
I first met Cheryl in 1992. She had been recommended as a progressive individual who had worked for the ARC of Rensselaer County. Right from the start, she taught me about the principles of person-centered planning a la Beth Mount and of self-determination, integration and inclusion a la John McKnight.
I asked Cheryl to come to NYAPRS to organize and direct our first state contract, a progressive project that was intended to tie renewal of the licenses of community mental health treatment programs to the level of satisfaction of the people who were using those services. She applied her tremendous organizational skills and dedication to the project, hired peer interviewers from across the state and took in hundreds of surveys.
I then asked her to join Ed Knight and me in 1994 to help us to think through how to create a statewide project that hired, trained and supervised people in recovery to help their peers to acquire the hope and support to leave and stay out of 6 NYS psychiatric hospitals. Many had been residing in those hospitals for decades.
I will always remember sitting in our basement office while Cheryl suggested the term ‘peer bridger’ to describe our new concept.. It sounded strange to me….but what did I know. She once again led the way in helping us to create the first peer bridger program in the nation, if not the world.
Cheryl spent the next few years implementing our new model, making it the subject of her doctoral dissertation. She did qualitative research that powerfully demonstrated the program’s impact on the people served, the peer bridgers and hospital and community staffers.
Cheryl met with and incorporated the wisdom and lessons of peer support pioneers Shery Mead and Mary Ellen Copeland. She kept me and our program focused on these values and the power of appreciative inquiry.
And when we got funding to create the Recovery Training Collective that hired peer educators to help providers to transform their attitudes and practices to promote recovery, rehabilitation and rights, who else was best suited to help launch that project but Cheryl?
Cheryl went on to share her inspiring vision and unshakeable conviction with peer support pioneers and leaders, state and county officials, consumers/survivors and providers alike all over the state and country.
She worked closely with Shery Mead to identity the unique qualities of peer support and forged standards for trauma informed peer support.
She worked alongside Shery and many other pioneers because she was herself a critically important pioneer. She never sought the spotlight and so too few know and appreciate who she was and will always be.
Listen to the language of Cheryl McNeil to understand her work: “the evaluator as steward of citizen deliberation,” “poetic representation in evaluation,” Creating a Culture of Evaluation, Recovery is for Everyone,” “The Politics of Narrative,” “Peer Professionalization: Is it Real or is it Memorex?,” “Changing Conversations by Changing Evaluations,” “Creating Deliberative Forums: Making Participatory Evaluation Work.”
Cheryl was not a coddler…she told it like it was and regularly challenged folks like me to keep our eyes on the prize. Although it was always about the people and the principles, the innovations and the reforms and never about herself, Cheryl McNeil leaves us an extraordinary legacy that I believe we must always remember and honor.