Peg’s Foundation Honors Mental Health Heroes: Compass Award For Lifetime Advocacy

Pictured Front row, L to R: James K. Tudhope, DNP, Wendy Umberger PhD, PMHCNS-BC, Barbara Drew, PhD, Kent State University College of Nursing Back row: Nelson Freed; David D. Baker, PhD; Mia Klinger, Ballet Excel Ohio; and Pete Earley

(11-23-21) News Release From Peg’s Foundation. For immediate release.

On November 11, 2021, Peg’s Foundation recognized individuals and organizations bringing remarkable value to the community.

During the awards presentation in Rootstown, Ohio, Rick Kellar, Peg’s Foundation President, stated “Tonight’s recipients are not only our partners, but our family.” He emphasized that the work of these remarkable individuals and organizations is changing lives every day. “It is the power of partnerships advancing the foundation’s mission and vision and creating lasting impact!”

2021 Compass Award winner Pete Earley spent his career dedicated to helping people with serious mental illness and improving the systems that serve them. A former reporter for The Washington Post, he is best-known for his nonfiction book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and winner of awards from the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Mental Health America. Earley said his work promotes, “fixing a system that can be fixed and realizing that it costs more to jail people or institutionalize them, and that it costs more to let people throw their lives away than it does to help them.”

As a journalist he holds people accountable, elevates our national dialogue to what “should be,” and lifts mental illness out of the shadows, creating a vision on how to best support individuals and families impacted by mental illness. Earley stated, “The biggest thing we have to do for someone who has mental illness, I believe, is give them hope.”

Peg’s Foundation was endowed by Margaret ‘Peg” Clark Morgan and her husband Burton whose son, Dave, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Despite the family’s wealth, they struggled to find suitable treatment for Dave. “(Peg) was a mom who loved her son and wanted the best for him, and this illness wouldn’t always allow that for him,” Kellar recalled during an interview with “They couldn’t find the help and support to fulfill his needs to recover.” Peg Morgan died in 2013 at age 95.

Previous winners of The Compass Award include: Dr. Fred Frese, a nationally known advocate who lived with schizophrenia; Dr. Mark Munetz, co-creator of the Sequential Intercept Model; Dr. Michael F. Hogan, former director of Ohio mental health services and chair of President  George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health; and Alison Malmon, founder of Active Minds.

Earley said he felt humbled to receive The Compass Award. “I am especially grateful because of the caliber of the previous Compass Award honorees, especially Fred and Mark, two men I deeply admire.” During his acceptance speech, he thanked his wife, Patti Luzi, and the Peg’s Foundation’s Kellar, Thom Craig, and Victoria Romanda. 

Earley said he was especially moved by a three minute video showed at the ceremony. It featured his son, Kevin, Miami-Dade Judge Steven Leifman, retired NAMI Policy and Legal Affairs Director Ron Honberg, and Corporation for Supportive Housing President and CEO Deborah DeSantis.

Others Honored By Foundation

State University College of Nursing received the Morgan Impact Award for Excellence in Education for leading change in mental health care service delivery. The College of Nursing offers a traineeship program to support graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in nursing as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program specifically designed for students to complete a scholarly project that enhances mental health outcomes, or mental health care policy. Assistant Professor James Tudhope stated, “The Kent State University’s College of Nursing has worked to keep up with the workforce demands of Northeast Ohio and our graduates are on the front lines, caring for high-risk, vulnerable, and underserved families that are dealing with mental illness. [We] are proud of our graduate Nurse Practitioners that are working to improve the lives of our community members and helping them get connected with the support that they need.”

The Award for Excellence in Arts went to Ballet Excel Ohio (BXO) a nationally acclaimed pre-professional dance company under the artistic direction of Mia Klinger. Founded in 1975 by her mother, Nan Klinger, it was the first youth ballet company in Ohio. Dancers aged 8-18 are classically trained and work with renowned choreographers from across the country. “Kids want to have that feeling of being challenged,” Klinger says, “and when a kid is challenged, they’re never going to disappoint you; kids never do.” Rick Kellar remarked, “Ballet Excel Ohio encourages young dancers to appreciate the discipline of classical ballet and develop a love of performance which enhances confidence, professionalism, and a passion for life.” Dancer Rebecca Banig confirmed, “We love performing for people and it gives us that extra motivation…to show other people how beautiful ballet is. That I was able to perform…on a stage…is really amazing and it brought a lot of confidence to me.”

David Baker, PhD, Executive Director Emeritus, Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, was recognized with the award for Visionary Leadership. While at the University of Akron, his dedication, leadership, and relentless fundraising efforts produced the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology – a world-renowned archival research center and home to the Institute for Human Science and Culture and the National Museum of Psychology in Akron, Ohio. The Center’s current Executive Director Cathy Faye affirmed, “I don’t think that [it] could have been realized by anyone except Dave. I think that he has a capacity to dream really big and to follow that dream up with really concerted action.” A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum and archives are the largest collection of its kind, which Kevin Kaut, Professor, Departments of Psychology and Biology at the University of Akron, credits to Dave’s vision, saying, “Dave understood not only the value of having something like this, but he also recognized the need for the right people to be in place to make it the resource that it is today.”

Nelson Freed received the award for Excellence in Advocacy for his dedication to helping individuals living with mental illness. His passionate support and encouragement bring positive changes into the lives of so many people. Says friend and colleague Todd Little, “Nelson points out that there’s beauty in the world, even when you’re struggling, even when things are difficult, even when maybe you’re not at your best. He is a great example to show people that you can build your life.” Nelson is a state certified Peer Recovery Supporter, a National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Connections Facilitator and serves as Board President and group facilitator for Advocacy, Choices, Empowerment (ACE, Inc), an agency whose mission is to reduce isolation among individuals with mental illness. “My job as a peer supporter,” explains Nelson, “is to walk with a person in their journey, walk beside them, lead them up the path to take the right direction in their life and to cheer them to victory each day in recovery. We all have purpose in life; use it the best that you can.”

At the end of the night, Mr. Kellar said, “Our Founder, Peg Morgan, guided us to ‘Think Bigger!’ We challenge ourselves to follow her directive and engage in collaborative dialogue that sparks new ideas.”

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.