‘We call it expert by experience’: New mental health center led by survivors of trauma, mental health challenges

The peer-run respite is voluntary and non-locked, which former survivors say promotes healing and wellness.
Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 5:34 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - There’s a new outlet for treating mental health crises happening right here in Mecklenburg County.

Promise Resource Network has been working in the Charlotte community for nearly 20 years. They recently moved their space to Plaza Midwood and opened their first respite center next door, where people experiencing mental health challenges can get the assistance they need.

But this isn’t a typical mental health center because it’s entirely led by former survivors of trauma and mental health. Many of which used PRN’s services in the past.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see wellness every single day and you see people reclaim their lives.,” said Cherene Caraco, the founder and chief executive officer of the Promise Resource Network.

The peer-run respite center was designed by her and other staff members, who have experience mental health crises in the past. They say far too many times how crises are currently handled lead to more trauma.

“If someone express suicide more often than not, the police are called,” she said. “Your hand cuffed, your shackled. You brought to a hospital against your will. Your rights are removed through an involuntarily petition.”

And Promise Resource Network asked ‘how does that promote healing?’

Instead, they’re trying to change the way mental health is handled. They’ve opened this voluntary respite center where there are no locks on the door.

“We need to prevent crises from happening by supporting people through emotional distress. We need to divert from confined option because it feels harmful to us. It is not helping us. It is actually harming us. and we need to invest in recovery,” she said.

The center is inside a home PRN renovated this past year. Three people can stay there for up to 10 days (it can be extended) and receive programming and assistance from their peers who have been in their shoes before. While receiving help, the guests can also continue with their work. This is unusual for any kind of mental health service, where typically people would need to take off work. This allows for people experiencing trauma to keep steady employment, which can be helpful for many to overcome their challenges. The staff at the respite center say they know this from exerience.

“We’re an organization that is survivor led. We understand trauma and how that plays a role in so many of the challenges that people like us experience,” said Anna Fiscus, who is a certified peer support specialist and previous client of PRN when she needed help years ago. “Those closest the problems are closest to the solution. We are experts by experience so it’s really hard who haven’t experienced something, you need to do it like this.”

Each employee goes through a months-long certification and training process to work at the respite and help guide any guests. But they say the real knowledge comes from their own experience.

“A lot of times in our systems an services, we create expert by education. That means if you have certain credentials then you are an expert,” said Caraco. “We feel very strongly by expert by empierce. it means you lived this and you have risen, it means you have a wisdom to share.”

The respite center does not require insurance nor is there a cost to stay and all guests can choose to maintain their employment, school, family and social connections without disruption.

If you want to learn more about the Promise Resource Network of the respite center, you can find out more on their website at

They will start taking their first clients at the end of this month.

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