March 16, 2022

Courage & Compassion Awards: Jeanne-Marie Bohenek, Peer Wellness Specialist

In celebration of our individual and collective resilience, creativity, and service, six outstanding individuals were chosen to receive a Courage & Compassion award from Cascadia. This honor is intended to recognize those coworkers whose superpowers were a source of strength and hope in the last two years. The recipients of the award were selected via an open nomination process and an independent review by a number of our peers from across the organization. It was a competitive process, and it demonstrated how extraordinary Cascadians truly are.

Jeanne-Marie Bohenek

Jeanne-Marie’s knowledge and insight have helped our team to come together in efforts to provide more cohesive and integrated support. Her compassion is recognized by our team as one of the most integral contributions that our team benefits from. 

—Colin Kaehler, Counselor III

Jeanne-Marie Bohenek stopped in the middle of a sentence about the vibrant potential she sees in the future of peer services and looked down at her watch, which had called out to her with a faint ping. 

“I take this moment to release anything I’m carrying that is too hard to level up,” she read. She considered the text scrolling across her watch face for another moment. 

“I use this app called I Am,” she explained. “It gives you five affirmations every day, and if I can, I like to read them out loud.” She talks about the benefits of taking those small moments in a schedule that gets more hectic with every day that goes by, how she would recommend the app to anyone trying to be more mindful, how it’s building blocks like this that can help create healthy habits and relationships. 

Jeanne-Marie is a Peer Wellness Specialist, so this is how she often thinks: how to model the skills and ways of being that she wants her clients to learn. She tackles this task with unrelenting openness and the sort of honesty that makes you feel like you’re being trusted with something precious. 

“I feel like I’ve been invisible my whole life, so I’ve missed out on a lot of support. I try to be what I would have needed,” she explained. Jeanne-Marie believes so sincerely in supporting clients that it doesn’t immediately occur to her that there might be something unique or singular about her passion. “I don’t know—like anyone else, I’m just trying to do the right thing.” 

And when it comes to the philosophy of Peer Support, Jeanne-Marie’s approach is exactly what got her nominated and selected for a Courage & Compassion award. 

“Jeanne-Marie is considerate, patient, and compassionate about the work to assist clients to regain stability, safety, and connection,” her colleague Colin Kaehler, Counselor III, shared. “Despite a massively busy work schedule, Jeanne-Marie will take time out of her day to check on other staff and ask them how they’re doing and go out into the community to support clients.” 

Peer Wellness Specialists are integral to Cascadia’s mission because they use their lived experience to support clients on difficult paths. It’s a supplement to the clinical support that they receive, taking on a different kind of closeness than a therapeutic relationship could allow. 

“It bridges such a huge gap,” Jeanne-Marie said. “It’s almost like a professional friendship: There are clear boundaries to the relationship, but I get to say, ‘hey, I’m on the same road as you, just a little bit further down.’” For her, the work is about bridging gaps, advocating for clients, and modeling what healthy relationships can look like. 

And Jeanne-Marie is creative and open in how she does that. During a sidebar conversation about pets and animals, she eagerly showed off pictures of her two rabbits—Arthur and Stella—and talked about how soothing animals can be during stressful times. 

“Actually, that’s the great thing about having a work phone,” she said. “My clients know it’s not for crisis calls, but I tell them that they can send me cute animal pictures or funny memes. It’s just one way to model a healthy way to cope with hard feelings.” 

Connecting with her clients in a meaningful and organic way is natural to Jeanne-Marie, which is not at all a surprise to Aspen Sartoris, Program Manager II and Jeanne-Marie’s supervisor. 

“Her humor, her excitement about so many interesting things, her desire to connect and share things, and her creativity,” are all, according to Aspen, hallmarks of Jeanne-Marie’s contribution to Cascadia. “She’s just a cool person.”

That creativity, although tricky to get Jeanne-Marie herself to acknowledge, has not been lost on her team. “Services have been really challenging, especially over the last couple of years,” Aspen said. “We haven’t been able to serve clients the way we used to, and she was always really early in adapting to doing something more for her clients.” 

That “something more” goes beyond Jeanne-Marie’s warm vulnerability and willingness to be honest in a raw, open way. Currently, she’s one of the only people on her team making virtual group meetings a regular occurrence. “It’s so valued and has a lot of attendance,” Aspen said. 

And when Jeanne-Marie started doing work in the community, she left an impression on Aspen with an idea to help a client with a specific hesitation. “She said she needed some Trimet tickets because she wanted to help teach MAX to a client who was really anxious about public transportation,” Aspen recalled. “That was just above and beyond and seems like such good care.” 

For Jeanne-Marie, those individualized efforts are a given. “Peer support is grassroots, you know? It’s like punk rock,” she said. The more she talked, the more she proved that: Peer Support is a smaller program working with limited resources. Often, efforts are cobbled together by Peer Wellness Specialists like Jeanne-Marie out of nothing except for drive and creativity. Time is pulled out of the air for clients that can’t get in to see a therapist because of how difficult services are to access since the pandemic. Fierce advocacy is a daily expectation. Punk rock, indeed. 

 Perhaps it’s that surreptitious, rebellious spirit that makes it uncomfortable for Jeanne-Marie to bask in the light of the Courage and Compassion award. 

“I feel so honored. I really, really do,” Jeanne-Marie implored. “It’s just that, at the same time, I’m thinking, ‘how can I make this a platform?’ I work with the best people, and everyone at Cascadia is doing such an incredible amount of good work. I just want them to feel the love, too!” 

She’s correct, of course—everyone at Cascadia deserves recognition for the grit and fortitude displayed throughout the pandemic, and for their daily essential work. 

But, for today, we’ll focus on Jeanne-Marie, who prefers to fly under the radar but is bubbling with ideas about how to revolutionize peer services. Who lights up when she talks about how to create equitable access to services that acknowledge all dimensions of wellness. Who helps create the cohesive supportive team that Aspen strives for. Who fearlessly gives of her experience to benefit her clients.

“You’re utilizing a lot of yourself and your experiences in Peer Services,” Aspen said. “That’s part of the magic of it, but that’s also really hard. It can be difficult to be that open and connected. You’re so vulnerable, and that really takes courage.”

The 2022 Courage and Compassion Award recipients are: 

Amy Driscoll, Program Manager, David’s Harp
Daren Mitchell, Treatment Specialist II, Orchid House
Janis Cleveland, Director of Nursing
Mick Nesmith, Senior Director of Primary Care, and Robert Snyder, Nurse Manager
Jeanne-Marie Bohenek, Peer Wellness Specialist, Woodland Park

Throughout the month of March, we will share the stories of these astounding individuals, culminating in a virtual celebration of Courage & Compassion recipients on Thursday, March 31 at noon. We would love for everyone who is able to join us.