Peer Specialist for Youth

LMU Extension is partnering with South Bay Workforce Investment Board, Inc. (SBWIB) to offer a comprehensive Peer Specialist for Youth certificate program that combines the strong academic reputation of Loyola Marymount University and the extensive career and job placement resources that SBWIB has available.

By training individuals with lived experience with mental/behavioral health issues to mentor others who also are living with mental/behavioral health challenges, we are committed to building connections and to increasing each individual’s sense of worth using the following methods: teaching how to become a mentor, facilitating resources to assist participants and others, navigating interactions with other people and the larger world, and training those with lived experience to guide others to a path of employability.

  • The 80-hour Peer for Youth training program is offered in-person on the LMU campus and online via Zoom. 

    Upcoming Classes


    Online via Zoom: Monday & Wednesday, 6:30-9:30PM, January 22 - April 24, 2024

    Online via Zoom: Tuesday & Thursday, 6:30-9:30PM, February 6 - April 23, 2024


  • The 80-hour Peer Specialist for Youth training program will cover the following topics:

    • Introduction to Peer Support Specialist Training
    • Cultural Competence in Peer Recovery
    • Professional Boundaries and Ethics
    • Wellness Planning
    • Recovery
    • Motivational Interviewing and Stages of Change
    • Conflict Resolution
    • Crisis Intervention and Suicidality
    • Trauma Informed Care and Triage
    • Administrative Duties, Case Management and Record Keeping
    • Career Development

    The Peer for Youth program meets the educational requirements necessary for applicants seeking to take the state certification exam to become a California Medi-Cal Peer Support Specialist.

  • Classes are facilitated by experts trained in the field.


    Jenny Serrano, MPA

    Jenny Serrano is a Children’s Services Administrator III (Program Director) for the County of Los Angeles’ Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Youth Development Services Division. Prior to her move to DCFS in 2010, she served as the Special Assistant to Deputy Chief Executive Officer Miguel Santana in the County’s Chief Executive Office. In that capacity, Jenny assisted with program development, policy analysis, made recommendations to Department Heads and the County Board of Supervisors and oversaw all County social services programs that came about as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a $2-billion-dollar portfolio). 

    Jenny is currently responsible for managing programs that assist thousands of transition age foster youth annually, in the areas of employment, transportation, credit protection and other special projects. She manages 26 staff, including 3 subordinate program managers. 

    Jenny has been characterized as a thinker, a doer, a strategic risk-taker, often unconventional, smart, passionate, diligent, analytical and a listener. She is a natural forger of collaborations and innovation, all while maintaining a high degree of transparency and accountability.

    Jenny holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Public Administration degree from California State University, Northridge. She is celebrating her 16th year as an Associate Professor of Political Science at Pierce College. She served on the Board of Directors at Peace4Kids, a nonprofit serving foster youth in South Los Angeles from 2011-2017 and remains active as a volunteer and consultant. 

    Jenny was 13 years old when she went into foster care, and 18 when she exited. During that time, she attended 6 high schools and lived in 6 foster homes. She went on to become the caregiver for her younger brother when she was 19 and he was 15. Today, Jenny has a family of her own with her children – Nyah, age 22 and Asher, age 15 and enjoys reading, road trips and concerts.


    Zaid Gayle

    Zaid Gayle is the Executive Director and co-founder of Peace4Kids. For 25 years, he has helped amplify the voices of youth in foster care and served as a leader in the South Los Angeles community. Over this time, he has become a trusted resource and partner on a state and local level, helping to translate youth-led advocacy and organizing into policy. Zaid’s unique strategy of blending youth advocacy with media has yielded positive results.

    As Executive Director, Zaid has overseen an ambitious organizational growth plan, with the goal of helping youth transition successfully into adulthood. Since Peace4Kids inception, Zaid has led the opening and closing activities at Peace4Kids signature Saturday program that serves over 200 youth in foster care a year. Most importantly, youth in foster care look up to Zaid as a mentor and a trusted guide as they navigate systems and their path to independence. He travels both nationally and internationally to share his experience and perspectives on creating systems change for resilient youth.

    Zaid’s unique strategy of blending youth advocacy with media has yielded positive results. In 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB12 which is landmark legislation that increased the legal age of foster care from 18 to 21 in the state of California. The passage of this landmark legislation was in part influenced by a campaign that Zaid developed with his youth advocates called “All I did was turn 18”. This campaign received national attention in the press and was featured in a local documentary which was co-produced by Peace4Kids youth.

    Zaid and the youth advocates he has trained have been called on throughout the country and internationally to address the issues facing transition age youth aging out of foster care. They have given testimony in Sacramento and met with federal law makers to inform legislation, all with the intent of educating the public on the unique culture of foster care and to improve services for a marginalized population of over 400,000 youth in care in the United States.

    Additionally, Zaid has informed and developed various training programs and community-based research projects that have been published. Most recently he partnered with clinical professor, Dr. Niki Elliott at the University of La Verne to develop a certificate program for Heart-Centered Connectors. This program uses evidenced based practices to train adults with lived foster care experiences on how to regulate their nervous system and heal from trauma. This 6-month train-the-trainer program provides participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to teach educators, health care workers, caregivers, and social workers on how to apply mind and body practices to create safe spaces for children recovering from trauma.


    Mario Johnson

    Mario Johnson works to be the voice of hope for youth and families through building community resources, program development and implementation while empowering volunteers, direct service workers, advocates, and service providers through training. His objective is to endorse programs that focus on mentorship and leadership skill development; re-energize community connections, revitalize policies and rally program support to create systemic change.

    Mario’s credentials include a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communication Studies, a Master of Science Degree in Community Counseling and Master of Social Work Degree. In addition to his colligate accomplishments, he recently completed the Annie E. Casey Child and Family Fellowship. This fellowship has afforded him the opportunity to be connected to innovative child well-being leaders nationwide and strengthened his knowledge in developing results-based actions plans that focus on serving individuals disproportionately represented in the foster care system. Mario learned to connect his “why” to making impactful change for children, youth and families served by the child welfare system through his career experiences and fellowship journey. Simply stated, Mario’s desire is to serve in a way that inspires others around him to engage and join him in aggressively dismantling systemic racism and transforming child welfare systems into systems that focus on child and family well-being. Increasing the focus on child and family well-being places us in a space of aligning the work with community, non-profit, public and philanthropic partners to reduce disproportionality and increasing culturally sensitive community resources with a goal of helping all thrive. Mario believes that our hope is rooted in working with leaders to build their skills around having courageous conversations; re-energize community connections and to revitalize policies and practices that create systemic change through understanding the individual stories of persons with lived experience. Through his lived experiences in the professional setting, he has acquired various skills and managed to successfully improve how systems serve children, youth, and families.  Mario served as a Division Chief with the LA County Department of Children and Family Services to stand up the Office of Equity. Currently, Mario is a Strategic Consultant, assisting multiple states with transforming child welfare to child and family wellbeing systems. 


  • The Peer Specialist for Youth program provides training and job placement assistance to individuals who have overcome personal challenges experienced as a youth, as well as the parents and caregivers who have worked with and supported children dealing with adverse childhood experiences. Participants must be interested in working in a peer personnel position as a paid employee or unpaid volunteer in the Public Mental Health System (PMHS). For those already working in this capacity, the training can be used for career development.

    The Peer for Youth program is fully-funded by a grant from the Department of Health Care Access and Information. Students accepted into the program will have no out-of-pocket costs for tuition and class materials.

    Click here to apply: Peer Specialist for Youth Application

    To request a hard copy of the application, email or call 310-338-5813.