NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York City Health and Hospitals is celebrating its second graduating class from a training program called the Peer Academy, which is designed to train people who have experienced mental health or substance use issues to become peer counselors.

Eighteen people graduated from the program in June and 20 more are graduating Thursday, according to Curtis Dann-Messier, an administrator at the hospital.

There are over 80 peer counselors working at the hospital, but there are still a lot of openings available for these positions, he said on PIX11 Morning News Thursday.

“What a peer counselor does is help reduce the stigma, and show some love, compassion, and respect for those who are experiencing some difficulties,” Dann-Messier said.

Peer Counselor Jack Chudasama battled drug and alcohol addiction for 30 years and recently graduated from the program.

“I try to make them feel comfortable because a lot of them are suffering,” Chudasama said.

Watch the full interviews on PIX11 Morning News in the video player.