About Cherene Caraco…

 Cherene received her first diagnosis of mental illness at the age of 13, it was an eating disorder. The second soon followed, then the third, fourth, fifth… As an overachiever (not a diagnosis, simply a fact), she is now up to seven. With those labels, came a proclamation that she would always be sick, never be able to go to college, and would spend the rest of her life in and out of hospitals. She believed them. They were wrong. It made her sicker. It almost killed her.

Over the past 25 years, Cherene has made it her mission to understand mental health. As a professional working in services and systems, she has learned a lot about “illness”. As a student of people, though, she has learned about recovery and healing and made the conscious decision to no longer be in the illness business, rather plant, seed, water and grow wellness.

Learning from others around the country and abroad that are directly impacted by mental health and substance use challenges, Cherene founded NC’s first peer-run organization, Promise Resource Network (PRN), staffed by people that, despite being told they are chronically ill, are in recovery from complex trauma, mental health, substance use, homelessness, domestic violence, and/or prior incarceration.

As the founder and CEO of PRN, Cherene has made sure that recovery and resilience serve as the agency blueprint and social justice and system transformation as its mission. PRN currently operates 7 peer programs, serving over 1,500 uninsured people in Charlotte each month that have been “kicked out” or “opted out” of services, offering trauma-based alternatives to traditional treatments in each of the 8 Dimensions of Wellness. Due to its effectiveness and reach, PRN is nationally ranked in 2018 and 2019 among the Best 50 Non-Profits in the country to work for. Most recently, PRN was awarded a federal grant to incubate and launch the NC statewide peer/”consumer” organization, Peer Voice NC.

Through her work as a national and international consultant to Managed Care Organizations, Hospitals, States and Behavioral Health Organizations, she has the opportunity to challenge the status quo and illness based perceptions. She offers training and technical assistance on various topics related to trauma, recovery, psychiatric rehabilitation, employment as a pathway to recovery, and peer support.

Most importantly, Cherene continues to learn from the wisest people in the world about what helps and harms, valuing their wisdom and taking their lead so that others might heal too.


Learn more about Cherene’s Talk…

Title: Radical Recovery: Perhaps it’s time to Listen

Description: I was a good mental patient. I believed what I was told. They were wrong. I had to find my own sanity and did so through the most unlikely sources… others who too were told they were sick and crazy. I used the knowledge they shared to start a healing environment, staffed by people with more diagnostic labels, who have overcome homelessness, criminal justice involvement, and began healing from their trauma and recovering from mental health and substance use issues. Together, we challenge illness identities, reform systems, and are lead by with wisdom of people that live this each day. They have solutions. We have to listen.

What do you want people to learn from your talk? 1) The current mental health system was never designed around recovery. We see illness because we are growing illness. 2) as a result, suicide attempt and completion rates are increasing, involuntary hospitalization, incarceration, and homelessness continue to grow… we are losing people, 3) it doesn’t need to happen. Statistically, most people with mental health diagnoses recover if they are provided with opportunities, messages, supports, and information that is all geared toward wellness and healing, and 4) the most effective and untapped resource we have are people that live it every day. They have wisdom, knowledge, solutions, ideas that could be a complete game-changer in shifting from an illness to a wellness-based system. Their lived experience was earned, just as someone else’s degree and credentials were earned. Lived experience cannot be replicated through and needs to be valued as much as professional licensure if we are to realize healing and recovery

What action items do you want people to take away from your talk? 1) Nothing About Us, Without Us- if you work, volunteer or are otherwise involved in human or social services, push for leadership from people that have been directly impacted by the issues you are examining, 2) build the knowledge and leadership skills of people that have been marginalized due to their circumstances so that they can serve as leaders in looking at local solutions to local issues, 3) hire people with lived experience and listen to them, value them and be lead by them, 4) advocate against traditional treatments and services that oppress, marginalize and harm people…. become a social justice champion


Learn more about Cherene…

Where is your hometown? Charlotte

What are your hobbies? house decorating, yoga, I’m starting to design memes with a message

What are you passionate about? social justice, animals, equity, healing

What draws you to Charlotte? I like the urban life… a lot of options, different communities, great weather

What is the best compliment you’ve received? I received a great compliment regarding work from a former employee that said “everywhere I’ve worked, my job has been to put out fires. This is the first place where my job is to start them.”

What do you want to be remembered for? My commitment to humanity…my ability to “see people,” help them find their voice, support them to use it and create the life they want

How do you push the boundaries? I am an activator. I look for the things that are missing, the gaps, the things that don’t exist but are needed. Then I build them, defend them and say the things that others are thinking but unwilling to say out loud. I am not a status quo person. I am a disruptor of what is and a creator of what can be and I am unapologetic about wanting to create a better, safer, more humane world.

What does your happy place look like? It’s serene, sunny, candles, breezy, gliders, flowers, peace, visual reminders of who I am and want to be, surrounded by beautiful energy, images, and sayings that inspire me.

What is one thing that you would like to share that is unknown about you? I came out as a lesbian at the age of 40 after being married for nearly 20 years. Surprise!

Where do you see Charlotte in 5 years? Very developed but I am hopeful that it can become a leader in innovative social solutions


The most important questions…

What animal will be our future overlords? I’m going with chihuahua’s… they have a natural chip on their shoulders, fearless as shit, size doesn’t matter— its how they use it, bossy as hell. They.will.dominate. When they do, we will be their “bitches”.