I’m an individual with the lived experience of mental illness. As a teenager I was institutionalized for over 2 years at the Augusta Mental Health Institute (AMHI). Life has not been easy, and I blame poverty. Coming from middle class America, I had a quick lesson on street smarts to survive. My salvation was being encouraged to go to college, and I now have a BA in Social Work and am 3/4 thru my Masters in Psycho Social Rehab. I am also the mother of 3 kids. I have been involved in Amistad for 36 years and worked at the Amity Center (the old Amistad) for 8 years. Amistad has taught me so much – most importantly, that I’m not my illness, that I have gifts to offer my community, and that having a purpose in life makes all the difference. Peer support helped me see that the mental health system was wrong in telling me that I would always be too ill to do anything. Peers helped me see the choices I could make in setting my own destiny and empowered me to use my voice to change the mental health system and help found programs such as the Wayside Evening Soup Kitchen, Tent City, Project Blessing, the Cemetery Project, and the AMHI Oral History project.