​The Benefits of Peer Mentoring and Becoming a Peer Mentor

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on January 29, 2021 # Peer & Family Support Program

Ian

By guest blogger Ian Malesiewski

A few years after my spinal cord injury, I wanted to find a way to give back and help individuals living with paralysis who were struggling physically, emotionally, or mentally. I knew I had an extremely positive outlook on life, and I felt like I could use it to help people who were in need of support. Originally, I couldn’t find any opportunities to get involved, and I was kind of at a loss about what to do. Luckily, one day I was randomly searching around on the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation website, and I saw an opportunity to become a certified peer mentor. Immediately, I knew this was a position that I was interested in, and I instantly got involved.

Even though I am also an individual living with paralysis, I was initially scared to work with individuals like myself because I knew how life-changing these injuries could be. Between almost dying, losing your independence, and sometimes the ability to walk, these injuries are traumatic, and I was not sure if I was ready to help these individuals succeed and thrive in their new lives post-injury. However, after a few weeks of training, I was set to begin, and I started mentoring and connecting with individuals from across the country who were in need of support. I worked with people who were recently paralyzed and people who had been paralyzed for years. We talked about things that ranged from emotionally coping with being in a wheelchair to struggles in physical therapy, and I was able to use my personal experience to help individuals just like myself get through these difficult times.Ian headshot

In addition to helping people emotionally, I was also able to help my peers prepare for life after their injury by providing them with resources and information surrounding education, jobs, and social opportunities. Unfortunately, sometimes paralysis makes simple tasks such as work and school nearly impossible, and as a college student that works part-time, I knew the difficulties of trying to return to school and find work opportunities after an injury. Luckily, these past struggles and failures truly prepared me to become a good peer mentor, and I am happy that I could use them to help others not make my same mistakes and thrive in their new lives following their injuries.

Even though the main goal of peer mentoring was for me to support and assist other individuals, I was surprised by how much this experience helped me. Specifically, I was blown away by how much learning about other people’s trials and tribulations made my problems seem minuscule. It was almost like talking to my peers rejuvenated me and provided me with an extra source of motivation to keep working hard and striving to achieve my goals. Additionally, the relationships I built with these individuals was like nothing I could have expected. It was almost like the obstacles we were overcoming and experiencing together automatically helped us bond.

Since I am still a relatively new peer mentor, I am beyond excited to see where this experience takes me. I am also extremely thankful to have met all of my peers, and I think both my knowledge and personal experience have helped people who were struggling navigate a multitude of pressing roadblocks. With that said, I encourage any individual who is in need of support to request a peer mentor from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. All of their mentors have a wealth of knowledge, and their insight can genuinely make a difference!

My name is Ian Malesiewski, and I am currently finishing up my sophomore year at the University of Miami. Unfortunately, four years ago I broke my neck while wrestling at the Cadet World Team Trials and I am a C-4 quadriplegic. Although this injury left me paralyzed from the chest down, it has made me truly appreciate my education and life outside of athletics. With that being said, I am currently majoring in neuroscience with minors in chemistry, public health, and philosophy. You can follow me on Instagram @ianmalesiewski34. You can also message me on Reeve Connect, Ian Malesiewski.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.