About Us

What is Join Rise Be?

Great question!

On the surface, we are a state funded peer-run initiative built by young people for young people based out of New Britain, Connecticut. We share our lived experience and create spaces for others to feel comfortable to do the same, in hope to influence positive change within our current mental health system and our communities.

Our Mission is to share our perspective to influence change at the local, regional, and state levels. We connect with our peers and community partners to reduce discrimination against young people and we cultivate the belief that recovery is possible and we all have the capacity to achieve success. 

What is Recovery?

Recovery is rising above circumstance and living a life of self-defined purpose.  It is a process that is achieved through focused determination and patience. When recovery is achieved, it is recognized within the person as a shift from the inability to overcome challenges into a manageable state of self-awareness where growth is attainable.

​You may think of recovery differently. That’s wonderful! We welcome the dialogue to gain a shared understanding of what it means to navigate personally devastating circumstances. 

Meet Our Team!

Young Adult Engagement Peer Specialist: Marco Stanley

 Marco is an empathetic and intuitive artist who was born and partially raised in Meriden, Connecticut. In the span of a few years, he moved from 3 different homes until his mother made the decision to give up guardianship. Despite traumatic childhood struggles, it wasn’t until he was in high school when he first discovered his fascination for the human psyche. For as long as he can remember, Marco has always wanted to make others feel welcome, happy, and loved. Exploring what it means to be conscious became a priority after issues surrounding abandonment and lack of self-worth became prevalent. Multiple hospitalizations and other hardships showed him the importance of time and energy. His purpose became very clear: Do what you love and inspire others to do the same.

     Working as a warmline operator goes hand in hand with his abstract way of thinking. He believes in pursuing a self-defined life around the many forms of creation. From photography to graphic design to poetry to music, he takes on many hats in life. With that being said, when he’s not working at the Join Rise Be headquarters, he’s creating art and publishing it while simultaneously sharing knowledge and wisdom relating to topics such as love, substance abuse, healing, abandonment, mindfulness and so on.

Warmline Operator: Emma James

Emma (they/them) was certified as a Recovery Support Specialist in August of 2019. One of their main goals is to normalize failure. There isn’t only one right path forward in life. In their early 20s, Emma felt like a train wreck. Because perfection is unattainable, they tried to control their own sense of failure by deliberately tanking their efforts. They flunked out of college. They repeatedly spiraled. Afraid to try again, they stagnated for years.

After their RSS training, Emma returned to school with new self-advocacy and coping skills. It wasn’t easy, but they graduated as the valedictorian of their community college in the spring of 2021, thanks in part to their network of support. Emma is currently finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology, with plans to pursue grad school. Emma still struggles with their mental health, but they are cultivating resilience. 

Emma values authenticity, curiosity, humor, and patience. They run workshops on the intersection of LGBTQ+ issues with mental health. They listen to ’70s-’80s Japanese funk/soul/city pop, read magical realist literature, watch video essays and anime, and practice visual and performing arts. Emma has written over 100 short stories since February 2021 and now writes for our blog.

Warmline Operator: James Cymbala

James is an individual who has been involved with recovery in many capacities. From addiction recovery work at CCAR and Alcoholics Anonymous service positions to being a trudging buddy to many and talking about mental health.  

With a love of music, poetry, art, photography, and history he is always finding something to bide his time. An interest had sparked in working in the mental health field after joining peer lead support groups for recovery and realizing how beneficial they are.

With a realization that he could give back what was so freely given to him, he has started work with Join Rise Be.

Warmline Operator: Tina Wilson

Tina was born and raised in Bridgeport, CT where she still resides. After meeting with a Recovery Support Specialist in her 2021 hospitalization, Tina was determined to become an advocate for herself and for others. She became certified as a RSS in February of 2022 and began to actively search for employment in her field of work. After months of searching, Join Rise Be hired her as a Warmline Operator in August of 2022. Tina plans on getting facilitator training in both Hearing Voices Network and Alternatives to Suicide. She also plans on getting training for Intentional Peer Support and Wellness Recovery Action Plan. 

Aside from work, Tina creates art such as paintings, drawings, and jewelry. She is very interested in Psychology and Herbalism. She spends her free time relaxing with her cat, George. 


In memoriam…

Johnathan Mckenzie August 9, 1997 – November 17, 2019

Johnathan McKenzie joined the Advocacy Unlimited family just over a year ago – yet, it felt like he was a brother for lifetimes.

Beginning at an early age, Johnathan’s interest in neuropsychology, philosophy, and socioeconomics stemmed from his personal journey through New York and Connecticut’s psychiatric inpatient and outpatient systems. Upon discovering some of the fundamental flaws that lead to many of our society’s struggles, Johnathan began his pursuit of advocacy while inpatient at Connecticut Valley Hospital.

Alarmed by the inhumane treatment and the disregard of client rights, he transitioned into the community with the support of Char’Dornne and Connecticut Legal Rights Project. With his newfound freedom, Johnathan began participating in civil protests, mental health awareness campaigns, and LGBTQ pride events.

This led to a growing commitment to change the conditions of society to ensure all people have the opportunity to achieve their dreams free from institutional and systemic discrimination.

Despite experiencing the harshest of circumstances, Johnathan believed in the goodness of people. He was a leader who inspired all those who witnessed his grace, dignity, and charisma. His devotion and passion for protecting civil and individual rights was seen in so many ways.

Through his leadership, the Danbury NAACP Youth and College Division was founded in 2016. He then transitioned to the role of Community Coordinator with the Waterbury chapter where he was recognized this year in Detroit, Michigan for his outstanding efforts and involvement with the NAACP.

While volunteering, Johnathan became more involved with local efforts to reform the mental health service system. He joined the Connecticut Young Adult Services Statewide Advisory Board, and subsequently joined the Join Rise Be team at Advocacy Unlimited as a Training Coordinator and Young Adult Warmline Operator.

As a member of the JRB team, he collaborated directly with the Department of Mental Health of Addiction Services Young Adult Services division. Working alongside his peers to strengthen the voice of young adults and improve the partnerships between those engaged in YAS programming and the staff that work with them.

What a year it has been for Johnathan – a rising star and an agent of change. Along with receiving the youth award through the NAACP, Johnathan was recognized in Torrington as the 2019 recipient of the Fredrick “Ricky” Lagassie III award this past May and as the recipient of the Emerging Adult Voice Award through Keep the Promise Coalition for his testimony at the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut Legislature.

Beyond the words that describe his achievements – Johnathan was passionate about running, martial arts, meditation, writing, and music. Johnathan is remembered as a quirky, dancing, improving, bowtie wearing, awesome hat rocking, roller blading, martial art doing, music making, writing, kareoking, advocating, brilliance that lit every space he entered with pure heart and presence.

Johnathan’s presence was an embodiment of love, expression, kindness, freedom, and connection.

Johnathan was love, the rarest and most pure love. His expression of kindness gave permission to all people to simply be free just as they were – nothing more was needed. He was committed to connection – wanting people to feel a sense of belonging.

For those of us lucky enough to have worked with Johnathan will remember him sitting in the office for hours, surrounded by paper placed strategically around him, candles lit and music blasting. He was changing the world each moment and breath he took.

Each letter he wrote and word he spoke was with a conviction that came from his soul. He would spend hours talking about the purpose of life, the purpose of our being, and always asking how we can define happiness. When asked, he would define happy as, “sitting right here doing all the things I love with the people I care about.”

Well, Johnathan, you changed the world for many people. Through your love, expression, kindness, freedom, and connection – those who knew are better people because of your presence.

Despite the pain, you found your way through the darkness and you lit a flame that will forever burn in the hearts of us all. You belonged right here, all along. You will never be forgotten.

No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness – Aristotle

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