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Peer Masters helps patients learn public-speaking skills

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dustin Rotter takes his place at the podium and looks straight at his audience. The room grows quiet, and all eyes are focused on him.

There was a time when Rotter would have shied away from the attention, but now he relishes it. By honing his public speaking skills, Rotter is creating long-term opportunities for himself outside of Oregon State Hospital.

“I’m learning how to better represent myself,” said Rotter, a patient on Bridge 2. “It’s been a good challenge to overcome. This gives me a chance to explain myself and to tell my story.”

Rotter is one of about a dozen people who take part in Peer Masters, a public-speaking group that meets Wednesday nights at the Sjolander Empowerment Center. Sponsored by Toastmasters International, the group strives to advance members’ communication skills to grow as leaders and influencers.

“We’re serious, but we also like to have fun,” said Ray Kinney, a Toastmaster who mentors the group. “Through Peer Masters, people can learn how to prepare for job interviews and reach self-actualization.”

At each meeting, members follow a set curriculum and take on different roles. They may time speeches, share announcements, or count the extraneous words people use when talking, like “um” and “so.” Two people give five-to seven-minute speeches of different types and styles, and others give impromptu talks in response to questions.

Evaluators help judge the speeches – analyzing everything from clarity and word choice to flow and body language – and everyone is encouraged to provide constructive feedback to help presenters improve their craft.

“People learn how to listen, and how to speak,” said Janet Zeyen-Hall, also a Toastmasters mentor. “This group gives everyone a safe place where they can express themselves. It lets them take control of their anger and work through their problems.”

Rotter is one of several patients who’ve participated in the group since it began meeting on the Salem campus last summer. He introduced Taylor Medelez of Bridges 2 to the club, who credits it with helping him to keep his emotions in check. He’s no longer opposed to public speaking, and he looks forward to listening to people talk.

“It makes me feel like I’m getting to the point where I can leave here,” he said. “This is one of the best groups I’ve been a part of so far. I’m learning from people in the community, and I know being a better speaker will help me when I apply for jobs.”

Rick Snook, a peer recovery specialist with the hospital, serves as a club adviser. To his knowledge, the OSH-based chapter is the only one in Oregon accessible to hospital patients.

More than a year ago, the Marion-Polk Peer Coalition helped fund the chapter’s start-up costs. The group initially met at the Recovery Outreach Community Center in Salem, but moved to the hospital grounds to open access to patients.

Going forward, Snook said he wants the chapter to continue to evolve and attract participants. He also hopes patients will gain the skills needed to advocate for themselves at community and legislative forums.

“Anything that helps normalize a person’s life is beneficial to recovery,” he said. “By sharing their stories, I hope our patients will help other people and begin to think of a life beyond this place.”


Through his involvement with Peer Masters, Dustin Rotter of Bridge 2 said he's learning how to better present himself.

Peer Masters Meetings
Oregon State Hospital patients are invited to attend Peer Masters meetings every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Sjolander Empowerment Center on the Salem campus. For more information, contact Peer Recovery Specialist Rick Snook at 503-393-4273 or email him at

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