Peter Starkey

Peter Starkey, executive director of Monadnock Peer Support, is shown here outside the agency on Beaver Street in Keene.

After three years as Monadnock Peer Support’s executive director, Peter Starkey will step down this winter.

Starkey, 28, plans to leave for a job opportunity with an Oregon nonprofit. Community Action Resource Enterprises (CARE) Inc., which Starkey will lead as executive director, is a social service agency working to help people experiencing poverty in Tillamook County, in the Northwest region of the state.

And while the Keene native is excited for the next step in his career, he said he didn’t make the decision lightly.

“It was very hard because I love Keene, and I love this area, but it’s a great professional and personal opportunity,” Starkey said.

Monadnock Peer Support in Keene, founded in 1995, is a member-run mental health agency that offers free peer-support groups, one-on-one peer support, a youth peer-support program and a 24/7 peer-crisis respite program.

During his time with the Beaver Street agency, Starkey said he’s proudest of expanding its mental health services and further integrating them into the Monadnock Region.

Under his leadership, Monadnock Peer Support launched a youth peer-support program with Keene’s Making Community Connections (MC2) Charter School last fall.

The first of its kind locally, according to Starkey, the group’s purpose is to provide a nonjudgmental space for teens not only to talk about their feelings, but also to learn constructive ways to address them.

Starkey also helped develop Monadnock Peer Support’s free peer-respite program, a voluntary alternative to going to a psychiatric hospital for those 18 and older in the midst of a mental health crisis. This is the only program like this in the Monadnock Region, Starkey said.

Once the two-bed respite program was up and running, Starkey said he worked to increase the program’s utilization by promoting it through community partners.

He added that he’s worked to transform the agency into “a self-contained community of support, and really [becoming] a regional advocate and leader when it comes to mental health.”

Monadnock Peer Support’s leadership transition comes amid the agency’s plans to move to a larger facility. The agency had originally planned to buy the former Woodward assisted-living facility on Court Street, which Starkey previously said would allow for an expansion of the peer-respite program.

However, buying the property was contingent on a special exception from the Keene zoning board for a group home in a medium-density district. The board denied this last month after neighborhood residents expressed concerns that Monadnock Peer Support’s proposal would lower property values, increase traffic and reduce parking availability.

Starkey said Monadnock Peer Support is now looking for a different location.

The agency’s board of directors is working to find his replacement, according to member Martha “Marty” Barnard, and to determine whether an interim will fill the role before someone is hired permanently.

“Peter will be greatly missed,” she said. “He certainly has had a huge impact on the Monadnock Peer Support community, and all of his work has made so many important changes for the agency.”

In addition to his post at Monadnock Peer Support, Starkey is also leaving his seat on the Keene Board of Education, as well as on the Hundred Nights and Monadnock Food Co-op boards. He is also a member of the Greater Keene Rotaract Club and Keene’s College/City Commission.

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As he prepares for his new job, Starkey said he will bring what he’s learned from Monadnock Peer Support — and the area’s spirit — with him.

“We are truly a community that can support one another ...,” he said. “We really have all the tools, us as individuals, to solve some of the greatest issues in our community. We just have to be willing to take that step.”

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.