16 organizations. One common goal.

Why would some of the most prominent mental health groups and community thought leaders in Western New York invest their time, money and energy for one singular purpose? Because we think that life depends on it. Initially serving Erie County, the Anti-Stigma Coalition was formed to stop the stigma surrounding mental health. We’re doing it by creating a community conversation where people can share their stories, their struggles, and their successes with each other. Through our efforts, we hope that people dealing with mental health challenges will know they are not alone, help is available and recovery is possible.

BryLin Behavioral Health System

For 60 years, BryLin has been a trusted name in the Western New York community, providing compassionate mental health treatment and substance abuse care for individuals of all ages. Their individualized care promotes healing, wellness and recovery while respecting the dignity of patients, their families, and others.

I chose to be a part of this coalition because I want to change the way people perceive others with a mental illness. Mental illness has touched my family and I believe if we can help people better understand mental illness and the benefits of treatment, we can reduce the stigma that’s often associated with seeking help. People with mental illnesses can be treated successfully and they can lead fulfilling lives!

Mark J. Nowak | Director of Marketing & Public Relations

Children’s Mental Health Coalition of Western New York Inc

A voice for families of children with emotional, social, behavioral, developmental, and learning challenges, the Children’s Mental Health Coalition of Western New York Inc. offers Family Support—an array of services that help children live at home while giving attention to the needs of all family members.

As a family-run, family-driven organization serving children and families in 19 Western New York Counties, our experience with the stigma of mental illness is personal. We know the sting of having a loved one shamed or dishonored as a result of their illness. We have lived with the brick wall that stigma places before us leaving our families with needs unmet and help unsolicited. Because of this, we work with passion and deep intent to provide support, collective action, partnership, and strength, in achieving the care necessary for all children and families. We believe unquestionably that the reduction of stigma will make for enhanced legislation, enriched policies, and advanced treatment to improve the lives of all those within our community.

Mary Skorupa, Executive Director

Community Partners of Western New York

Community Partners of WNY is a network of more than 100 health, human service, and educational organizations; the Catholic Health System plus five community hospitals; and over 1,000 physicians from across the region that will focus on transforming the delivery of healthcare in Western New York.

Removing any impediment to proper care for those struggling with mental health issues is critically important to improving the lives of so many in our community. With compassion, understanding, and collaboration, we can begin to knock down the barrier of social stigma. We are proud to partner with our fellow community leaders to start the conversation, help spread awareness, and reduce the stigma for those seeking help in their struggle. We want to let people know they are not alone, help is available, and a happier, more balanced life is possible.

Kimberly E. Whistler, Esq. | Compliance Officer


Since 1985, Compeer Buffalo has been providing social support in the form of friendships, to individuals (age 6 and up) who are striving for mental wellbeing. We know that friendship decreases loneliness and isolation, therefore we offer 1:1 friendship, social engagement activities, school-based mentoring, and mental health education in our community.

Compeer Buffalo is the international headquarters for 40 locations in the US, Canada, Australia and England. Compeer was founded in 1973.

Stigma contributes to individuals feeling lonely and isolated, being reluctant to seek mental health support, and discrimination. When we make an effort to remove the stigma of mental health, we reduce the harmful effects that stigma leads to. Compeer is proud to be a founding member of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition.

Cheri Alvarez | CEO

Crisis Services serving Buffalo and Erie County

Crisis Services is dedicated to promoting the health, safety and well being of the community through prevention, education, immediate intervention and access to community wide resources 24 hours a day. Crisis Services is the most comprehensive crisis center in upstate New York providing immediate response to the community through the following program services: 24 Hour Hotline Services, Emergency Mobile Outreach Services, Trauma Response Services, Mobile Transitional Support Services; Advocate Program services for survivors of rape, domestic violence and elder abuse. Crisis Services also oversees the Police Mental Health Coordination Project, Rape Crisis Advisory Committee, Crisis Intervention Training Project for law enforcement and administrative home of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County.

When a crisis occurs there is an emotional and physical impact to one’s well-being. As a crisis first responder, I have seen firsthand the impact of not dealing with crisis and trauma can have on a person’s sense of self, purpose and belief in happiness and hope. We are honored to be a part of this collaborative team of agencies working to address stigma in Erie County.  Our goal is to ensure we have a competent community to ensure everyone feels safe to reach out for help and not struggle alone. We want the community to know we care, we are here and you are never alone.

Jessica C. Pirro, Chief Executive Officer

Erie County Department of Mental Health

The Department of Mental Health is administratively responsible for planning, directing, coordinating, and monitoring programs of prevention, treatment and rehabilitation involving mental health, intellectual/developmental disabilities, problem gambling and, alcohol and substance abuse services.

It is with great pride in the work of the Coalition that I lend my voice in strong support of the work being done to alleviate stigma around mental illness. As human beings, we all are either personally affected or hold dear others who have struggles with their mental health. When we look at it as a physical condition with psychological symptoms, we realize we are all susceptible and can look at those affected with compassion and respect.

Mark O’Brien, LCSW-R | Commissioner of Mental Health

Throughout my 29-year career in behavioral health, I have watched scores of individuals in my personal and professional life who would not seek counseling, medication, or even support for fear of being stigmatized. I have also witnessed many, many people who, because of stigma, take on an additional burden that should not otherwise be there. I have witnessed language that is disempowering, marginalizing, and blaming; although sometimes unintentional, it is not less impactful.

When this opportunity arose, I knew that I personally wanted to be a part of this important initiative that became the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition. Not only personally, but professionally as part of the mission of the Erie County Department of Mental Health, the Coalition provides an opportunity to have many voices providing a unified message. It is far past time that we alter the paradigm of how our culture views mental illness and behavioral health challenges.

John Grieco | Assistant Commissioner | Planning and Analysis

Erie County Office for People with Disabilities

The Erie County Office for People with Disabilities was created to ensure that Erie County’s citizens with disabilities would have a direct voice in County government; to make available an advocate who could work within in the county structure to develop and enhance services; and to oversee facilities and programs by the County.

I choose to be a part of this very important campaign because stigma affects too many people with disabilities. Stigma limits people in their ability to live the lives they want to lead. Stigma also limits diversity and diversity should be our strength!

Frank Cammarata | Executive Director

Fellows Action Network

Fellows Action Network (FAN) is a network of skilled, collaborative leaders who are graduates of the Health Leadership Fellows program of the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York and the Ladder to Leadership program of the Center for Creative Leadership in CNY. FAN seeks to improve quality of life through advocacy, action and professional development.

I got involved in the anti-stigma campaign because a very good friend’s teenaged loved one died of suicide and if it weren’t for the stigma of mental illness, he might have gotten the help he needed and might be alive today. As a retired human services professional and Vietnam vet, I have worked with many youth and families, and fellow vets that could have become more successful in their lives if it weren’t for the negatives associated with getting treatment for mental illness. Even within my own family, we have had delays getting the support needed because of stigma and its effects. Today, we want to inspire those who need help that there is hope and help available if one is willing to try.

Max Donatelli

Fuerst Consulting Corporation

As business strategists with a communication focus, Fuerst Consulting Corporation proudly create partnerships with clients by providing a unique mixture of strategy, planning and problem solving across various industries and disciplines. Services include: Strategic Planning; Marketing Communications Strategy, Planning and Implementation; Community/Stakeholder Outreach and Engagement; Internal/ Organizational Communications; Editorial Writing and Media Relations; and more.

I have personally been involved for years as a hands on foundation board member for a mental and behavioral health organization. Throughout this journey I learned from mental health professionals about the importance of reducing stigma and encouraging open conversations. The opportunity to take what I have learned personally and now apply it professionally to the work of this incredible coalition has been an honor. Our firm is proud to be a part of the coalition and to stand side by side with such amazing advocates for the mental health community.
Therese Hickok Fuerst | President

Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County

Provides counseling and social services support to Western New York individuals and families in the interest of doing what is right and good. JFS services include: Mental/Behavioral Health, JFS Care Coordination and JFS Career/Job Development. Their vision for social justice extends to all—regardless of religious belief, ethnicity, gender identity or economic status.

“All are entitled to live with dignity and respect. All are  entitled to live without  fear or pain.”   Nobel Laureate ELIE WIESEL

Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County, New York [JFS] is a nonsectarian, not for profit, community-based health and social service provider that has served its community since 1862. We are a multifaceted agency offering a broad range of complementary, integrated services delivered by highly qualified professionals in psychiatry, psychology, nursing, social work and rehabilitation counseling; committed volunteers and community contributors.

Our services are available to all individuals – from infants, children and adolescents to families and the frail elderly – regardless of religious affiliation, ethnicity, race, culture, gender or ability to pay. Our compassionate health care professionals administer comprehensive programs that offer comfort, counseling and connection to a broad network of support.

In every service area – from elder care to refugee resettlement to behavioral and physical health – JFS focuses on client-directed treatment of the whole self. We are guided by the essential connection between mental well-being, physical wellness and positive self-worth.

My experience with stigma and shame is not only professional but personal.  We lost a child to circumstances that may have been changed by a broader public understanding of how to recognize and respond appropriately to a mental health crisis.  The outcome would have been different for my child if people encouraged those in need to seek help in a positive, supportive and compassionate way.

My vision for this initiative is that in the end it will save lives by providing the broad-based education to dispel all stigma that remains associated with mental illness.

Marlene A. Schillinger | President/CEO

Mental Health Advocates of WNY

The Mental Health Advocates of WNY, Inc. promotes mental health and wellness in our community and supports individuals and families who are challenged by mental illness. The Mental Health Advocates of WNY has positioned itself to know the community’s most pressing and current mental health needs, and to deliver the best possible programming and services to meet those needs.

At Mental Health Advocates of WNY, every day we hear the concerns of parents who have a loved one experiencing a mental health crisis, the struggles of people trying to find appropriate care, and the stigma and shame that can come with a mental health concern. And we also hear our support group members talk about the importance of having supportive family and friends who understand their struggles. What we know is that stigma and shame feeds on itself. In order to change that dynamic, we need to change the conversation. We are committed to promoting mental health and supporting individuals living with mental illness. And we are committed to work hard with the other members of the coalition to put an end to stigma.

Melinda C. DuBois | Executive Director

Millennium Collaborative Care

Igniting healthcare change in Western New York, by partnering with physicians, healthcare providers and community-based organizations to improve the delivery of health care for Medicaid patients. Millennium Collaborative Care was identified as one of the Performing Provider Systems in Western New York. Today, the organization serves over 258,000 lives across eight counties.

By encouraging and facilitating open conversations about mental health conditions, and attacking outdated stigma head on, we are taking another major step forward in our ongoing efforts to improve the health of our communities.

Not only are we educating and sharing urgently needed messages of acceptance and hope; we’re knocking down barriers and enabling more people to seek and access treatment much earlier.

This benefits both the individual and our healthcare delivery system. Anytime we can match a person to the right care at the right time, and therefore avoid additional situations that may arise from untreated conditions, we are achieving success.

Al Hammonds, Executive Director, Millennium Collaborative Care, PPS

The Patrick P. Lee Foundation

The Patrick P. Lee Foundation is a private family foundation dedicated to having immediate and measurable impact in education and mental health. They are committed to raising awareness of mental illness, specifically serious mental illness, and the importance of early diagnosis. They also support training and academic opportunities for those entering the mental health profession and those currently working in the field.

The Patrick P. Lee Foundation is proud to partner with the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition to fight the stigma associated with mental illness. Through education and outreach, we are committed to improving the lives of  people living with mental health conditions.

Jane Mogavero | Executive Director


Preventionfocus, Inc. empowers children, adults, and entire communities with the skills, information, and tools needed to make positive life choices. They take a proactive approach, putting prevention strategies to work in an effort to stop problems before they start. They also strive to impact laws, policies, norms and beliefs that make healthy choices more likely.

Stigma is the force that makes all of our work in addiction and mental health less effective than it needs to be. Stigma stops people from asking for help and stops people from helping. It sometimes stops issues from even being discussed. We can create programs and strategies, but if money is withheld to support them or if people don’t use them or seek them, we can’t succeed. Remove the stigma and these efforts can flourish. Help seeking and help giving need to become the norm. If not for stigma, they would be.

Matthew G. Smith, CPP | Executive Director

Telesco Creative Group

Putting more people in the seats. Selling more subscriptions. Raising brand awareness. Making a difference in the community. Whatever the objective, the team at Telesco Creative Group will find an effective and memorable way to meet it. This full service advertising agency specializes in branding, identity, advertising, social media, collateral design and more.

We chose to get involved because we all have people in our lives who are affected by a mental health diagnosis. We started talking about this effort and the entire conference table was basically spilling their guts about their own stories. Tears were shed and we knew we had to help champion this cause and get the rest of the WNY to join the conversation.

 Mike Telesco | President

The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation

Created in 1990, the Tower Foundation is a family foundation working for children, adolescents and young adults. The foundation is focused on improving the lives of young people in the communities where Tower family members have lived, worked, and raised their children. Key funding areas include: Mental Health, Substance Use Disorders, Intellectual Disabilities, and Learning Disabilities.

The Tower Foundation has made the promotion of mental health a cornerstone of our grantmaking since our founding in 1991. One of our stated priorities in this funding area is the elimination of stigma related to mental illness. Participating in the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition aligns us perfectly with that goal. We are thrilled to be a part of this important work. Tracy Sawicki | Executive Director