Did you know that Recovery Peer Advocates can be certified “provisionally” and begin working to obtain the 500 hours of experience they need?

“This is the most rewarding job that any person in Recovery could ever hope to have!” That’s what Certified Recovery Peer Advocate-Provisional (CRPA-P), Sarah Manchester, had to say when asked what she would offer to anyone pursuing a career as a Recovery Peer Advocate.  This month Recovery Talk spoke to Sarah to find out why!


Sarah Manchester grew up in Penn Yan, a small Yates County town nestled in the Finger Lakes region of New York where she says she had “an easy upbringing.”  Upon graduating from high school, got her CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) credentials and went on to work as a nursing assistant for a few years before getting a commercial driver’s license and going to work as a school bus driver.  After getting into a difficult relationship and giving birth to twins, she was given a prescription for pain medication.  That’s when her addiction started and “things went downhill from there fast!”  Sarah says she spent seven years in the active phase of her substance use disorder eventually losing her job of 14 years and ultimately getting arrested on September 10th 2013.  That date marks the beginning of her Recovery and she has never looked back.


Today Sarah shines the light of hope in Recovery, in the same town where she once “held the lime light for negativity.”  She now works at the clinic where she received treatment; Finger Lakes Area Counseling and Referral Agency (FLACRA) Penn Yan Clinic, and runs a support group in the county jail where she was once an inmate.  She says she is happy to be able to come and go freely, as a Peer Advocate at the jail.  “Today, they don’t want to keep me,” she joked.

In the spirit of coming full circle, Sarah tells us that not only was she a guest speaker at the last drug court proceeding of the judge who was on the bench during her participation, but he happily officiated at her recent wedding ceremony !

Sarah says she is proud of how far her town has come in embracing her and the role that she is able to play in people’s recovery today.  She says that even her husband’s eyes were opened, as he has since changed the way he views addiction and recovery because of her honesty and the trust he has in her. 


Not knowing where it would lead, Sarah took the suggestion of the halfway house’s “house mom” and enrolled in the  CCAR Recovery Coach Academy training through Catholic Charities in March of 2016.  As a result,   when she called to inquire about community service opportunities at FLACRA, she learned that in fact, she was qualified for the paid Peer Advocate position and immediately applied. .  (By way of background, FLARCRA operates five clinics in the Finger Lakes region. Thanks to a three year, $1.5 million grant from OASAS, each clinic has its own Peer.)

After completing her ethics training and the necessary paperwork to secure her CRPA-P credential she was hired by FLACRA and began working as a Certified Peer Recovery Advocate – Provisional on September 1st, 2016.  Sarah receives additional training through her agency and is currently training to become a Peer Specialist through The Office of Mental Health (OMH).


Sarah told Recovery Talk that she not only lost a valuable job because of her addiction, she also has a felony conviction and as a result, was worried that no one would hire her.   But those experiences are part of what qualifies her to do her new job well!  When recoverees say “who are you to tell me….?” she tells them where she’s been, and she starts to see “the walls come down.”


Sarah tells us she enjoys working closely with the case manager at the clinic to offer services to anyone who requests them.  At present, she carries a case load of 20 to 25 people at the clinic and provides one on one Home & Community Based Services (HCBS) to people who are home bound.  In addition, she facilitates a weekly support group in the Yates county jail where she creates a peer to peer connection to assist inmates in re-entry into the community and facilitates referrals to treatment prior to release.

One of the most important things she says she does, as a peer, is to show that she cares.  “People often don’t have anyone,” says Manchester. This role allows her to just sit with her clients, listen to their story and witness their tears.  She says she even sometimes cries with them and is grateful that, unlike a clinician, she can sometimes provide a hug.


When asked if there are any downsides to the job, Sarah cited the recent spike in overdose deaths in her small town.  ”We recently lost seven people in one week and that that was very difficult.”  While at first she took reoccurrences into active use personally, Sarah tells us she has learned to meet people where they are at and to take care of herself.

FLACRA emphasizes good self-care and encourages staff to take mental health days, especially directly following the death of a client or recoveree.  Sarah says she “dives into family” when she needs to and that her husband and children are her biggest supports.  She also practices what she calls “wind therapy” — riding her motorcycle and blowing the cares out of her hair.


What she likes best about her role is “seeing the proverbial light bulb switch on!”  She enjoys seeing people learn what Recovery is and recognize that they want it.  She says she can see the change in their faces when they realize nothing is going to stop them.

We’d like to thank Sarah for sharing her “light” with us and for the important lifesaving work she is doing.  We wish her all the best in her future endeavors.

To connect with Sarah:

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 315 521-6744

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