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Peer Voices of Orange County (PVOC) was first established by Co-Founders Orlando Vera and Johnice Williams, as a fiscally-sponsored project of the Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies (MECCA), with support from MindOC/ the Behavioral Health System Transformation. Orlando and Johnice worked passionately to advocate and advance change for peers, defined as individuals who live with mental health and behavioral health conditions. Through their work within the peer movement and with partnerships in CAMHPRO, Cal Voices, and other statewide organizations, Johnice and Orlando recognized the need for empowering peers and providing them with opportunities to express their opinions, beliefs, feedback, and ideas to enact change. They recognized that change is difficult and that the concerns and opinions of peers were not being heard in the behavioral healthcare system. Our founders were honored to work with Sally Zimmerman, who inspired them and gave them the confidence to view this as an opportunity to implement positive, powerful change within the behavioral health community. They began a movement to unite peers, their families, and mental and behavioral health professionals, to create an improved system that recognized and respected the experiences of people with behavioral health conditions. 

In 2020, the SB 803 Peer Support Specialist Certification Act was passed in California. That same year, Peer Voices of Orange County (PVOC) was established as a 501c3 non-profit organization, providing direct support services to peers. Armed with the powerful peer support system created by SB 803, Peer Voice of Orange County sought to elevate and amplify peer voices through Peer Certification, to ensure that peers are involved in every aspect of the behavioral health system. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to unite all people in the behavioral healthcare field, advocate for the wellness of peers, and promote an empowered and informed voice of, by, and for peers with lived experience in the behavioral health care system and in the community.

Our mission is to provide direct support, advocate for wellness, and ensure that every voice is heard and valued in shaping a compassionate and inclusive behavioral health landscape.

Peer Voices of Orange County (PVOC) is committed to nurturing a collaborative and empowered network of peers, inclusive of community health workers, with lived experience in behavioral health care. Emphasizing the synergies of SB 803’s peer support system, we aim to elevate and integrate the unique voices of peers and community health workers through certification and engagement in all facets of the behavioral health system. Our mission is to offer direct support, champion the wellness of our community, and ensure that every voice, especially those on the front lines, is instrumental in forging a compassionate and holistic approach to behavioral health.

Our Progams in 2023

Have reached a total of +3,000 people this year

No Data Found

Meet our

amazing Team

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Orlando Vera

founder

Orlando Vera is the co-founder of Peer Voices of Orange County (PVOC), a powerful peer-led movement advocating for the needs and opinions of individuals living with behavioral conditions. Born in Cuba and arriving in the United States at the age of 7, Orlando’s journey has been filled with success and challenges. After experiencing the impact of mental illness firsthand and facing the criminal justice system, he found solace and recovery through the support of the Wellness Center and REI. Recognized for his kindness and ability to connect with others, Orlando became a Peer Specialist and quickly advanced to a leadership position, managing a team of specialists. Engaging with organizations like DBSA and serving as vice president of the Orange County Chapter, he dedicated himself to supporting individuals with depression and bipolar disorder. As a state ambassador for Cal Voices, Orlando continues his advocacy work, promoting the reintegration of those incarcerated into the community. Through PVOC, Orlando strives to empower peers, families, and behavioral health care providers, making their voices heard and driving positive change in the behavioral health community.
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Robert Forte

ceo of peer voices San Diego

Robert Forte is the CEO of Peer Voices of San Diego and part of Lifeline Inmate Services / LIS Consulting, providing sustainability services to clients confined in the county jail system who are unable to bail out. With over 20 years of personal experience within the criminal justice system, Robert overcame addiction, childhood trauma, and a dysfunctional family environment. As the Regional Case Manager for Metro Community Ministries, he focused on successful re-entry for older offenders, utilizing his lived experience to guide individuals through the challenges they face. With a strong network of relationships with California State parole, County Probation, San Diego Sheriff Department, and the District Attorney’s Office, Robert fosters change and fills the gaps in the system. He actively participates in various boards and committees, including the Care Center, Re-entry Roundtable’s Policy and Procedure Subcommittee, Juvenile Justice Task Force Board, Council on Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health Board, and Black Men and Black Women United. Through innovative projects like a comprehensive video showcasing re-entry services in partnership with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, Robert works to improve outcomes for individuals re-entering society. Currently, as a State Ambassador for Access Cal-Voices, Robert continues to advocate for criminal justice and mental health reform, making a positive impact on individuals’ lives.
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Yadira Castro

Director of Peers PVOC

My name is Yadira, I am 43 years old, since childhood I have been suffering from mood swings, depression bipolar, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and ADHD. In 2006, I became a single mother of four children, and I was struggling with my mental health. In 2008, I began volunteering at the Mental Health Association of Orange County, and this program opened the doors to a single mother struggling, and this program guided me to where I am today. I volunteered in their thrift store for a year, and this program motivated me to want more in life. My supervisor at the time offered me a part-time job as a housing specialist for the homeless, and as a mother struggling to keep a stable home for my children, I was inspired to help others struggling with housing retention and mental health. Right after I was offered a full-time position for the HPRP program in Anaheim, 2009, I was offered a position at Wellness Center South as a housing specialist. After a year, I became the Assistance Program Director for this wonderful program that provides peers struggling with mental health with a safe place where they can be themselves, after years of struggling with depression, bipolar, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and ADHD, I felt I proved that it is possible to succeed in life, with all my life obstacles and still working on my recovery journey, I became a home owner and a business owner, and I’m still working on my life’s passions and motivations with Peer Voices of Orange County.

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Dan Verdugo

Addiction & Recovery Specialist

A Peer Mentor at Wellness Center South in 2016, I facilitated 13 groups while connecting, inspiring, giving hope to members. In 2018, became a Peer Lead at Wellness Center Central. In 2021, was hired at Peer Voices of Orange County. I have over 33 years of sobriety and overcoming a lot of disappointments in life. Mental Health means a starting point to strive, improve and find ones meaning and purpose. I am a person of hope and compassion and love viewing peers recover and being transformed into a person for seeing them as a true person, not the condition.
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