NYAPRS Announces 2016 Annual Award Winners

The NYAPRS Board of Directors is very pleased to acknowledge the efforts of some of our community's and field's most extraordinary leaders; please read below to see how their inspiring leadership and example have helped to advance our mission of promoting recovery, rehabilitation, rights, community life and dignity across New York and the nation. NYAPRS encourages you to honor these extraordinary individuals and their work via an ad in the upcoming NYAPRS Annual Conference 2016 program. See https://rms.nyaprs.org/wp-content/plugins/files/civicrm/persist/contribute/files/Annual%20Conference%20Prospectus%202016.pdf or contact Deputy Director Tanya Stevens at tanyas at nyaprs.org<mailto:tanyas at nyaprs.org>

NYAPRS 2016 Annual Award Winners


The Brendan Nugent Leadership Award is presented to an inspiring consumer leader in promoting and advocating for the empowerment of New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities.

* David Bayne, executive director, Step by Step, Ogdensburg, NY; David is a longtime peer leader whose kindness and dedication has enriched the lives of North Country residents for over a decade. Last year, David led a long and challenging campaign culminating in a successful law suit to overcome considerable local opposition and discrimination to open a new recovery center in Ogdensburg. In reaction to compliments about his bravery he replied, "it's not a choice, it's something I have to do for all of us."


The Frances Olivero Advocacy Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated inspiring community leadership and unique contributions in advocacy on behalf of people with psychiatric disabilities

* Jennifer Mathis, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Washington, DC

Jennifer is one of the nation's most fervent, vigilant and effective national advocates for American with psychiatric disabilities. She has helped lead the fight against for recovery, rights and full community inclusion, specializing in ADA, Section 504 and Medicaid rights protections. Most recently, her great leadership helped to make numerous improvements in pending federal mental health legislation.


The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to an individual who has a long record of exemplary contributions to the recovery, rehabilitation and/or rights of New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities.

* Amy Kohn, Mental Health Association of Westchester, White Plains, NY

Dr. Amy Kohn's 35-plus year career as a social worker, human rights advocate and leader highlight her passion for building just, ethical solutions that address all forms of human oppression. Between 1982-93, she developed progressive programs promoting emotional wellbeing for youth and families that included an award winning program for LGBT youth that still thrives today.

Since 2007, Amy has steered the MHA of Westchester to become one of the state's most respected person-centered, recovery-oriented agencies, well known for its progressive case management, housing and early intervention programs.. Today, peer-professionals are infused into all areas of agency operations. She had the vision in 2011, to lead an effort to establish an Independent Practice Association comprised of 9 partners operating in 7 Hudson Valley based counties. Amy leaves a legacy of commitment to the values of equality, justice, self-determination, empowerment and collaboration.

* Ray Schwartz, former executive director, Venture House

Ray has just completed an extraordinary 30+ year career of service to promoting the recovery, rehabilitation and rights of New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities.

His involvement first began as a member of a community group on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that was concerned about SRO residents who had been discharged from state psychiatric centers without any planning for needed community services. After working as an analyst for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, he then devoted the next 20 years to serving as associate executive director and then executive director of Venture House, a certified clubhouse in Queens.

As longtime NYAPRS Public Policy Committee Co-Chair and board member, Ray has demonstrated tireless dedication to helping thousands to advocate for themselves through his leadership of countless advocacy campaigns and NYAPRS legislative days. He has been especially well known in Albany as a longtime champion for the rights of people with mental health conditions in prisons, jails and adult homes.


The Marty Smith Memorial Award is presented to a uniquely inspired and dedicated provider who has demonstrated exemplary contributions to the advancement of best practices in service to New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities.

* Western NY Independent Living, Douglas J. Usiak, Executive Director

Western New York Independent Living is a catalyst for systems and individual change, enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities while respecting diversity and promoting choice and alternatives for independent living in our societies.

WNY IL Is comprised of a Board of Directors consisting of people with disabilities and over 51% comprised of people with mental disabilities. The majority of staff and administrative staff all have disabilities. WNYIL is comprised of a family of regional Independent Living Centers and Mental Health Peer Connection, with main and satellite locations throughout Niagara, Erie, Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans Counties. WNYIl plays a major role in empowering, educating, and promoting equality of all people with disabilities in Western New York, New York State, and throughout the United States of America. For over 30 years this agency has been spearheaded by executive director Douglas J. Usiak.


The Partners with Families Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated inspiring leadership in the advancement of the alliance of families and consumers in promoting the recovery, rehabilitation and rights of people with psychiatric disabilities.

* Leah Gitter and Myra Hutchinson have been longtime members of NYS' Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement, where they have led and exemplified an alliance of families and consumers in promoting the recovery, rehabilitation and rights of people with psychiatric disabilities.

As parents, Myra and Leah embrace mental health recipients in their work to help those in prison with mental health concerns. They worked tirelessly for over a decade to help pass a law to restrict solitary confinement in state prisons for individuals with mental health conditions. They continue to work to this day on strengthening implementation of this law and, over a decade, have met with countless agency leaders and politicians to help reform prison mental health policies.


The Public Education/Media Award is presented to an individual inside or outside of the media who has demonstrated extraordinary public education efforts that advance the needs of and/or that highlight the accomplishments of New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities.

* Liz Benjamin, Capital Tonight, Albany, New York

Throughout her almost 20 years of being Albany's most read and watched news reporter and interviewer, Liz has always make sure that issues relating to our community and public policy receive center stage coverage. Her knowledge about and commitment to our concerns has had a major impact on moving the political needle in Albany in our direction. Liz joined the Time Warner News political team in April of 2010 after spending more than a decade reporting and blogging about New York politics for the New York Daily News and the Albany Times Union.


The Public Policy Leadership Award is presented to a policy leader who has demonstrated outstanding public leadership on behalf of New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities.

* Senator Robert Ortt, NYS Senate Mental Health Committee Chair

Since his election and selection as Senate Mental Health Committee chairman in January 2015, Senator Ortt hit the ground running and has quickly become one of our greatest friends and allies. In his first two years, he has secured over $1 million to expand Crisis Intervention Training initiatives to improve police and community response in localities from across the state. He has taken the lead in the fight substance abuse, putting together a package of new legislation in his role as co-chair of the Senate's Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. And, as a recipient of the Bronze Star, he has worked to expand peer services to help our veterans with behavioral health and trauma related conditions. NYAPRS is very pleased to honor our new champion!

* Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, NYS Assembly Mental Health Committee Chair

Since her appointment to head the Assembly's Mental Health Committee, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther has been a fierce advocate for our community. She has led the way to expand criminal justice and crisis diversion initiatives, with over $3 million in new initiatives. She has worked hard to improve and expand mental health services for our children and youth and to support initiatives that take on stigma and discrimination. And she continues to favor voluntary approaches to serve those with the greatest needs. Mrs. Gunther demonstrates a great dedication to our community and to our family members, with countless instances where she personally interceded to ensure someone in crisis got the help they desperately needed. NYAPRS is very pleased to honor our champion!


The Jason Brody Award is presented to an individual who has been an extraordinary source of kindness, caring and devotion to people within their mental health community.

* Marc L. Greenberg, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing

Marc's selfless leadership has energized the IAHH's efforts to address the crisis of homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing by helping those who have been homeless to recover from trauma and by promoting public policies that will produce affordable housing, prevent homelessness, provide important services and promote income and employment. Marc has been instrumental in bringing faith leaders out to support the NY.NY 4 campaign aimed at providing housing to homeless NYC residents with disabilities. Most recently, he helped organize a letter from over 150 faith leaders to urge Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to commit to funding for 20,000 new supportive housing apartments over 15 years. Marc continues his efforts to rally faith leaders to see that all of the $1.9 billion gets allocated for these purposes.


The Quincy Boykin award is presented to a person in heartfelt recognition of your inspiring contributions to the recovery, empowerment, integration and inclusion of all New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities.

* Chacku Mathai, NAMI-STAR Center

NYAPRS is extremely pleased to honor one of our own Chacku Mathai for his extraordinary long time contributions to promoting recovery, rights, dignity and full community inclusion and, in particular, for his tireless efforts to see that these gifts are fully extended to all, regardless of race, ethnicity and gender identity. As director for the NAMI STAR Center, one of SAMHSA's 5 national technical assistance centers, he brings his own unique passion and humanity every day to facilitate the restructuring of the mental health system by promoting recovery and consumer directed approaches. Chacku's devotion arises out of his own personal experiences as a youth and young adult in mental health and addiction recovery in New York. He has since accumulated over thirty years of experience in mental health and addiction community based services in a wide variety of roles from youth leadership and community organizing to executive and board management.


The Hope and Inspiration Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated an inspiring understanding and commitment to advance the wellness, recovery and integration of people with psychiatric disabilities.

* Rosie Mendez, New York City Council

Since 2005, NYC Council Member Rosie Mendez has been a leading source of hope and inspiration in her work to advance mental health policy and programmatic reforms affecting New York City residents with mental health conditions. She is a family member who has spoken openly about the needs of mental health recipients and family members relating to police encounters.

Most recently, Rosie worked tirelessly in support of the then-fledgling Communities for Crisis Intervention Teams-NYC, attracting massive media attention to this cause and introducing a bill that won the support of numerous City Council members. Rosie Mendez has demonstrated a life-long commitment to her community through her activism as a tenant organizer, legal advocacy at Brooklyn Legal Services and City Council member.


* Cindy Peterson-Dana, Mental Health Association of Westchester

Cindy Peterson-Dana personifies the hope, compassion and commitment necessary to help transform lives and systems alike. A lifelong advocate for the transformation of the mental health system, she has worked in state hospitals, community clinics, on an ACT team, in residential services, in her own private psychotherapy practice and as former deputy director of the Howie the Harp Peer Training and Advocacy Center. Currently, she provides oversight for three of the MHA's innovative peer-professional programs as the director of Peer and Recovery Support Services for MHA Westchester.

Throughout her work and career, Cindy's vision has always been fixed on the essential tenets of choice, rights and alternatives to traditional treatments. She has always strived to develop a culture where people are encouraged to learn as much as they can about their challenges so they can fully participate in and drive their own treatment and, more so, have a voice in their own lives.

NYAPRS encourages you to honor these extraordinary individuals and their work via an ad in the upcoming NYAPRS Annual Conference 2016 program;

See https://rms.nyaprs.org/wp-content/plugins/files/civicrm/persist/contribute/files/Annual%20Conference%20Prospectus%202016.pdf or contact Deputy Director Tanya Stevens at tanyas at nyaprs.org<mailto:tanyas at nyaprs.org>