|The Voice Awards Biographies
Honoring Those Who Make a Difference for Mental Health
Lifetime Achievement Award
For 13 years Larry Fricks was the Director of the Consumer Relations and Recovery Section of the Georgia Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases. He is a founder of: the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Inc. that now has some 3,000 members; the Georgia Consumer Council; the Georgia Peer Support Institute; and Georgia’s Peer Specialist and Training Certification. He served on the Planning Board for the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and Mental Health America (MHA). Larry is also on the national Advisory Council for the Center for Mental Health Services and the Advisory Board for The Carter Center Mental Health Journalism Fellowships.
During his distinguished career, Larry has received the Clifford W. Beers Award given annually by MHA (1995), the American Association for World Health Award for significant contributions to improving community mental health (2001), and the Recovery Award from the International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services (2004). Larry has also received several journalism awards from the Associated Press, the Georgia Press Association, Gannett Newspapers, Mental Health America of Georgia, and NAMI – Georgia.
A mental health consumer diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1984, Larry Fricks currently serves as the Director of Appalachian Consulting Group in Cleveland, GA. Most recently, Larry’s story of recovery and his constant struggle against stigma and discrimination was featured in the book “Strong at the Broken Places,” by Richard Cohen. And, although he fights every day against the stigma and discrimination of mental illness, Larry has said, “To take my illness would be to remove the meaning and purpose I now have. Mine is a purposeful life.”
Consumer Leadership Awards
Paula Comunelli is a consultant, educator, leader, and founder and CEO of Listening Well, an organization that provides personal and professional development for individuals, organizations, and communities using the power of storytelling.
Paula’s diverse background includes roles as social change advocate, entrepreneur, corporate manager, government contractor, and transformational leader. Paula is a mental health consumer in recovery. After experiencing the stigma and discrimination that comes from being diagnosed with a mental illness, she has taken it upon herself to create an organization to remove the stigma and discrimination that comes from ignorance.
Listening Well has given hope and encouragement to consumers who feel they can participate in their own recovery. A curriculum and guidelines have been developed so the experiences will have a solid connection to the positive energy of healing. She invites consumers and family members to participate in a process of storytelling to release the shame, despair, and fear by telling their own story. Through this process a new story is born with new possibilities. As Paula Comunelli said, “They are telling their stories because they can.”
Because storytelling is a universal language, the Listening Well can be delivered in any language, to any age group, and with any population. Facilitators are often bilingual, bicultural serving monolingual populations, or hiring clients. All are applying newly acquired skills and personal empowerment to increase employability, and to embed the recovery vision.
Joan Esnayra is a consumer, an advocate of consumers’ rights, and founder and president of Psychiatry Service Dog Society (PSDS). An accomplished geneticist, she has sacrificed her scientific career to become a full-time advocate for mental health consumers. Her openness about her illness is a manifestation of her strength and is her way of diffusing the stigma associated with mental illness. Joan Esnayra trained her dog to help mitigate the effects of the mental illness, then coined the term Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD). After experiencing success with her PSD, she has been able to personally train more than 600 clients on selecting, raising, training and utilization of PSD. Also, through PSDS she has been able to help other consumers and providers to integrate PSD into their treatments. As a not-for-profit organization PSDS advocates for the equal treatment of those with mental illness using service dogs and educates people about PSD.
One achievement of PSDS has been to establish coalitions with other sister organizations to secure the protection of PSD-user consumers. International reach has been achieved by the PSDS as interest in PSD as part of treatment increased in countries in Europe and South America, as well as Australia. As a testament of the reach of PSDS, its website www.psychdog.org, has attracted more than 43,000 visits (29,000 being unique) and the listserv has generated over 39,000 messages.
Joan demonstrates that recovery from severe mental illness is real and possible by becoming a role model for individuals with severe mental health disabilities. Thanks to her work, persons suffering from a variety of mental illnesses are now living fulfilled lives. To quote Joan, “You are a strong, intelligent person, and you always deserve to be treated with respect.”
Herminio Maldonado is a very active spokesman and advocate for the mental health community. He has led continuous efforts to reduce the discrimination and stigma associated with mental health issues in the City of New York and across the country through advocacy, education and sharing hope with his peers, consumers, and their families. Herminio’s work experience with jail diversion programs, forensic psychiatric units and advocacy, along with his lived experience with foster homes, a suicide attempt, drug use, homelessness, incarceration and trauma has provided the inspiration for his conferences, workshops, trainings, and community meetings, throughout the country.
Herminio has demonstrated that treatment works and recovery is possible for everyone. Herminio has been drug-free and stable for eight years, and brings his recovery and how it has worked for him to his clients and his peers. He is a role model for many and is living proof of his recovery by bringing hope and encouragement to people’s lives.
Herminio has done many presentations throughout the nation advocating for consumers, and is a member and volunteer for various consumer advocacy groups. He has travelled to Washington DC many times to advocate for mental health issues in housing, entitlement, employment, traumas and abuse, incarceration, substance abuse, homelessness and voting rights. He is currently a Technical Assistance Advisor for Policy Research Associates, Inc. Herminio is also a steering committee member for the NASMHPD and NTAC. As a motivational speaker, Herminio has brought hope and recovery to everyone that hears him.
“I know that treatment works. I know because I am living it,” said Marley Prunty-Lara who was diagnosed with early-onset bipolar disorder. She has put her own experiences of suffering and discrimination to use on behalf of the civil rights of all people with or at risk of mental health conditions. Marley often remarks that she knows the power of treatment because she has lived it. She has proved that living a full, healthy, successful life while managing a chronic illness such as bipolar disorder is possible, even probable.
As an advocate for mental health, her goals include improving access to mental health care and raising awareness about treatment efficacy. She has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and testified before a reconvening of the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. Currently, Marley is working to reframe the context of mental health conditions, labeling with emphasis on the use of “Seriously Emotionally Disturbed (SED)” as it relates to young people.
She offers speeches and presentations to various groups and organizations, addressing the need for more culturally and linguistically competent services and the unique considerations of children and young people. She also has addressed researchers, practitioners, consumers, family members and advocates—and at the same time lobbied—with lawmakers on these issues. As she has remarked, “Receiving effective treatment should not be something only the lucky experience. I have passionately lived within the prison of mental illness and have experienced the incalculable emancipation that accompanies wellness.”
Sharon Wise was diagnosed with mental illness at a very young age and was hospitalized for the first time at age nine. After more that 30 hospitalizations, 12 by force and five seclusion and restraints, she is a model for the possibility of recovery. She is now a Ph.D. candidate with her own business, and she travels around the country healing people through the use of art. She has single-handedly led efforts to reduce the discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness by bidding and winning a contract from the DC Department of Mental Health to provide satisfaction surveys She has also operated Washington, D.C.’s only consumer-run advocacy and drop-in center for six years. She coordinated several mental health consumer forums that focused on voting rights, smoking prevention, housing, and mental health parity.
She also created Desmond’s Dad Fatherhood Initiative that teaches single fathers how to read, provides access to GED, re-entry, construction trade and substance abuse recovery
Young Adult Leadership Award
Marvin Alexander is the former Youth Coordinator at ACTION for Kids—a currently funded SAMHSA system of care community in Arkansas. A 20-year-old licensed social worker from Jonesboro, Mr. Alexander is a passionate member of Youth MOVE (Motivating Others through Voices of Experience). He was diagnosed with bipolar, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder as a child. In addition to being a youth consumer of mental health services, he served as his sole advocate while maneuvering through the juvenile justice system. Mr. Alexander went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in social work from Arkansas State University where he was a leader in numerous student organizations, including the Student Government Association, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, NAACP, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. After graduation, he was one of four students awarded a Distinguished Service Award. He was also nominated for the R.L. Wilson Award, the highest honor bestowed upon any graduate of Arkansas State University. Mr. Alexander is currently enrolled in the advanced-standing graduate studies program at Barry University Graduate School of Social Work in Miami Shores, FL.