Two Well Known Advocates Change Careers, Well Sorta.


I want to thank everyone, once again, for your kind words of support about my appointment  last week to a congressional advisory committee. Our first meeting will be next week and I will keep you informed of our progress. Meanwhile:

(8-21-17) Mira Signer and Virgil Stucker, two highly-respected mental health advocates, have moved to new careers.

After working for a decade at the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia, Mira has resigned as executive director to become the System of Care Director for Magellan Health of Virginia.

Magellan Health of Virginia has the state’s contract to provide behavioral health services for those on Medicaid and also on children’s assisted health insurance.

During her tenure, Mira was a much needed strong, relentless and fearless voice. Most recently, she was responsible for boldly protesting about the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, who literally starved in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. It was Mira who helped organize a letter from advocacy groups that asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate Mitchell’s death after the disAbility Law Center, the state Inspector General, and the Virginia Attorney General shamefully ducked their duties.

In an email about the career change, Mira wrote:

“I wasn’t expecting it but the opportunity arose and while it was an extremely tough decision given my love for the work, I felt it was a great opportunity to learn and be challenged in new ways, to bring my voice and experiences into the managed care world and work within systems to educate and guide policy decisions to make a positive difference.”

She will be sorely missed.

After 16 years, Virgil Stucker is stepping down as President and Founding Executive Director of CooperRiis, a multi-site, nonprofit therapeutic community in and around Asheville, NC.

When helping found CooperRiis, Virgil drew from his experience during the 1970s and 80s working at Gould Farm, which bills itself as the nation’s oldest therapeutic community for individuals with mental illnesses.  Virgil-Stucker

Under Virgil’s quiet leadership, CooperRiis has prospered into a residential program that has a yearly operating budget of $12.5 million, a staff of 160 FTEs and more than $30 million in new facilities. Since it opened, it has provided recovery services to more than a thousand residents from 42 states and eight foreign countries.

Unfortunately, therapeutic facilities are costly, but while running CooperRiis, Virgil often helped persons in crisis whom I sent to him even though they could not afford a residential program.

Virgil is unique in many ways, one of them being, that he is not a psychiatrist nor a trained mental health professional. (His undergraduate degree is in philosophy and he later earned an MBA.) His interest in mental health came about because of a personal loss, which he described to writer Kiesa Kay for an intriguing profile published in the Tryon Daily Bulletin. 

“One of my friends, troubled from flying planes in Vietnam and dropping napalm on people, flew his plane into a mountainside. It shook me. I changed then. I found that I wanted to focus more on the internal (rather than philosophical) world.”
His search for answers and purpose eventually took him to Gould Farm in the 1970s where he planned to stay for six months but ended up there much, much longer. In part, because he fell in love with a fellow Gould worker, Lis, who became his wife, and because he discovered his calling.

This month, Virgil started a new venture appropriately called, Virgil Stucker and Associates LLC, through which, he will work as a personal consultant to families, philanthropists and mental health program leaders, sharing his years of expertise. You can read more about what he is offering clients at his webpage.

One of his skills has been linking philanthropists with innovative mental health ventures. He also leads workshops on how to create a healing community.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.