Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

In December, 2016, Tony Sanchez, Director of Recovery Transformation Services at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities participated in a RESPECT Institute of Georgia training that was hosted at the Sparrow’s Nest in Athens. Below, Tony shares his thoughts about his experience.

For several years, I have heard from many Peers that the RI training was a trans-formative experience. In December, 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in a RI and I can affirm that it is trans-formative – and healing.

I confess that I felt vulnerable when I started sharing my story with the other participants. I wasn’t planning on it, but I found myself sharing
experiences and feelings that I had never shared with anyone before. I actually think everyone felt vulnerable, but there was so much encouragement and compassion, that everyone took a chance. Everyone took a chance to be open and authentic and though it felt raw emotionally, it was also very liberating and healing.

Having been a veteran of the 12-step program, I assumed that the RI training would come easy to me. But I realized that the expectations of the RI require a different approach. For example, the exercise of having to write out my story and condense 40 years of my life into a 10-minute presentation demanded that I prioritize my lived experiences and at the same time deliver an educational and poignant message. This was not an easy task, but as I continued to edit my presentation, I realized how far I had come in my recovery. I realized that my resilience and recovery eclipse all of the pains and struggles of my life.

What I will treasure the most from my RI experience is the feedback sessions. After a participant shares their story, everyone is so encouraging and empathetic and compassionate that these sessions felt sacred. And when you consider that these stories have been held inside for so long due to shame and stigma, these sessions truly are sacred.

In my position at [DBHDD], I have had many opportunities to hear RI Graduates begin an important meeting by sharing their stories. Now that I have participated in a RI, I want to impress upon everyone that behind every 10-minute inspirational presentation, there is an enormous amount of effort. The RI is designed with great precision, but to get the optimal benefits, a participant goes through three days of intense, emotional and sometimes exhausting processes as they make peace with their past and learn to tell their story. And telling their stories is precisely what the RESPECT Institute Graduates do – every day. To date, RESPECT Institute Graduates have presented their recovery stories to over 100,000 Georgia stakeholders.

From The RESPECT Institute of Georgia Team
We encourage all Graduates to go into their community and tell their story!
Jen Banathy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Organizational Development Coordinator
Denise Hardy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Training Coordinator
Shelia Corn
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator
Lindsey Sizemore
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator

Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

Working on the road to recovery


In the past, people living with mental health challenges were often encouraged not to work. But on the road to recovery, finding purpose through meaningful activities, such as employment, can be helpful.

At East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, the work therapy program aims to empower people with skills learned on the job. The program is guided by several principles and practices, including supported employment that helps people with severe mental illness work at regular jobs of their choosing.

“Through the work therapy program, consumers can become contributors, and people who are isolated can become engaged,” said Work Therapy Coordinator Tiffany Snow.


The scope of work ranges from individual experiences to group experiences that includes hobbies and career exploration to campus job sites. At both the Augusta and Gracewood campuses, individuals have the opportunity to work at the treatment mall, in the central kitchen, with the yard crew, in the library, and in the apparel shop, among other job sites. More than 50 individuals have paid employment, more than 20 individuals are in training and groups, and three individuals are in transitional employment.

Recovery-oriented cognitive therapy (CT-R) also is an important component of the work therapy program. DBHDD staff were trained by the Beck Initiative in 2014 through a series of workshops and weekly consultations.  The work therapy program now utilizes CT-R to help people who may continue to experience symptoms or challenges.


The program continues to expand by strengthening connections with vocational rehabilitation and supported employment providers, and by developing off-campus work and volunteer opportunities.

Faith community asked to help combat the stigma of addiction

12512449_1114324658610909_734155431369925453_nMore than 100 leaders in the faith community, social workers, government officials, and families of individuals with substance use disorders gathered in Gwinnett last week to discuss the rising heroin crisis. Navigate Recovery Gwinnett, a nonprofit organization connecting individuals to addiction treatment services, hosted the event at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth.

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances in the world. The rise in its use correlates with an increase of pain reliever prescriptions. In 2013, 681,000 Americans used heroin, more than double from the previous decade. In Georgia, 1,206 deaths in 2014 were caused by heroin overdoses, an increase of 10.2 percent from 2013.

“DBHDD is trying to avert the problem that’s increasing from heroin and opioid use with access to services, a smoother transition into the community with recovery support services, and growing partnerships with our stakeholders,” said Wrayanne Glaze Parker, women’s program Coordinator in DBHDD’s Office of Addictive Diseases.

At the event last week, many of those on the front lines, including Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathy Schrader who oversees the local drug court, implored faith leaders to help combat the stigma of addiction.

Remembering Charles Willis

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DBHDD mourns the loss of Charles Bernard Willis, who passed away June 14, 2015 at the age of 61.

Charles was a nationally renowned mental health advocate who exemplified what it means to live a life of recovery. He served on state councils, helped with research projects and spoke at national conferences, but he also made time to reach out to people in distress and give support. “He is a person who didn’t just speak recovery, he embodied it,” said DBHDD’s Chief of Staff Judy Fitzgerald.

Read tributes to Charles from friends and colleagues

After earning a master’s degree at Fort Valley State University, Charles worked for several state agencies and taught special education in Hancock County. He began experiencing symptoms of mental illness in his twenties and self-medicated with no success. For 27 years, he went through more than 20 treatment programs, committed crimes that sent him in and out of jails and experienced episodes of homelessness. He was also diagnosed HIV-positive.

A mentor helped him get on a path of recovery, and Charles began mentoring others and spreading a message of hope to everyone he met. He trained as one of the first certified peer specialists in Georgia and became a role model, working at the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN), an organization that promotes recovery through advocacy, education, employment, empowerment, peer support and self-help.

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“Charles touched the lives of countless thousands of people across the state and the nation working as a champion of recovery,” said Decatur Peer Support Wellness and Respite Center Director Jayme Lynch. “Through a long battle with illness, Charles never lost the things that made him so memorable and so impactful: his infectious energy, his ceaseless empathy and his ability to light even the darkest night with his smile.”

He was nationally recognized as a speaker and trainer on self-directed care, whole health wellness and recovery. He led regional meetings for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, presented at conferences across the U.S., and testified at the Georgia State Capitol and in Washington about recovery resources.

In Georgia, Charles served for many years on the Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council and the board of Mental Health America (MHA) of Georgia. He also worked with Emory University and the Medical College of Georgia on recovery-oriented projects.

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Last year, he received the Clifford W. Beers Award, MHA’s highest honor. The award is given to those whose efforts improve conditions for and attitudes toward people living with mental health challenges.

DBHDD and advocates across Georgia remember Charles for his positive attitude and his enduring efforts to improve mental health care in our state.


Tributes to Charles Bernard Willis

September 13, 1953 – June 14, 2015

Charles Willis 7

“Charles’ spirit and smile made a lasting impression on all of us. He is a person who didn’t just speak recovery, he embodied it. He will surely be missed, but his hope and positivity remain with us.”
— Judy Fitzgerald, DBHDD chief of staff

“Rest in Power, Charles. Your unwavering voice will be missed, and continues to resonate loudly through all of us who carry on your legacy.”
― Leah H. Arlington, VA

“On Sunday June 14, 2015 our beloved friend and colleague Charles Willis passed away. Charles was able to stand apart as a titan. Charles touched the lives of countless thousands of people across the state and the nation working as a champion of recovery. Through a long battle with illness, Charles never lost the things that made him so memorable and so impactful: his infectious energy; his ceaseless empathy; and his ability to light even the darkest night with his smile. Charles will be missed more than words can convey. Since we all know how much Charles meant to us both individually and as a community, please seek support from your peers and offer support in return. Please keep Charles and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”
― Jayme L., Decatur

“I first met Charles at CPS training in Augusta last June and he instantly became a close friend. I said to him once during training that he made me feel good about myself just by walking in the room. He gave me a great big hug and said he felt the same way about me. Charles always called me “Professor” because I used to work as a teacher in the public schools. He was an amazing compassionate guy and I will really miss him.”
— Mark E.

“Charles told this amazing story of a butterfly that was struggling to break free of a cocoon. A hunter in the woods came upon the cocoon and saw its struggle to free itself of the cocoon. He took a knife and the soon to be butterfly fell to the ground. The story is about the importance of our struggle in growing wings of flight and that we have to do this on our own. He inspired me to write a workbook about the story that has inspired many others. I was always inspired by Charles. When I would call him, I would say “I love you” before hanging up. Charles would say, “I love you more!” I know this is just a saying, but I think Charles loved all of us more. He had so much to share. He lived life to the fullest where it matters, at the heart. I am not sure there is another supporter out there like Charles; his words were so full of hope and strength. I will miss him deeply.”
— Carol C., Lincoln Nebraska

“Words cannot express the sense of loss I feel. Charles was one of my heroes; his place in my recovery will never be replaced. His genuine care and compassion, and his passion will never fade from the mind or the heart. Love to all his friends and family in this great time of loss. What an incredible man.”
―Wade L.

“You have been a guiding light on our shared journey in improving the system in support of wellness. In writing this now, I see the joy in your face extending a hug, offering an impassioned opinion, and celebrating wellness. I am a better professional and better person from our collaboration and partnership. I will not forget your amazing light and will not let it cease to guide me even though I can’t share that hug with you in this time and space. Thank you for your amazing grace.”
— Wendy T.

“What a mark you made on those of us living with mental illness, your legacy will live on forever. May you rest in peace.”
― Julie R.

“Charles had a way of engaging people that was so present and attentive that he gave you the impression that you were the only person in the world at that moment. His smile, eye contact, and genuine manner gave a message of loving kindness to everyone he met. His life has touched many, and will continue to touch many like a pebble tossed on a still pond creating ever widening circles of energy. I miss him now and always will.”
— Gerri S.

“What a wonderfully compassionate and selfless man he was. He encouraged me many times when I felt like throwing in the towel. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. RIP Charles….you’ve made a difference that will never be forgotten.”
― Jewels M., Vidalia Georgia

“I first met Charles at my CPS training in 2006. I kept seeing him pop up everywhere and I knew he really knew recovery. I needed a sponsor because I was new in town. He said yes and remained my sponsor for six years. When he told pieces of his story I realized he had so much experience I knew nothing of, and faced many physical challenges I have never faced, and he was still Charles Willis, the most cheerful man I have ever met, whose laugh I delighted in mimicking. I knew that I wanted to have more of that.  I did my first fifth step with Charles which was utterly painful, but he made it beautifully okay. He seemed to be able to do that wherever he went. So very often when I was looking for a new job situation he would call me out of the blue and tell me about some opportunities. He mainly just wanted to ask how I was doing.”

I believe that when someone of this caliber leaves us, I feel it is because he has done his job immaculately and has nothing else left to do but to guide us in spirit where he can be everywhere. I loved Charles Willis. I will miss his laugh the most of all.”
— Matt Bonaker, Atlanta, Georgia

“Here in Puerto Rico, today I’m sad remembering Steve Kiosk’s (RIP) birthday , and happy that I had the chance to meet him and have his support. Just now I learn about Charles leaving us and I have the same mixed feelings, but the amazement that overcomes us with this kind of news is never really gone. Fortunately, we’ll always have the memory of his incredible legacy and achievements, and the echoes of his laughter that will forever resonate. I’ll miss you Charles.”
— Katy Castro

DBHDD staff provides an update on the settlement agreement


Last week, DBHDD staff provided an update on the settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Georgia at the 20th annual Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum held at the Carter Center. Commissioner Frank Berry, Terri Timberlake, director of adult mental health, and Dan Howell, director of intellectual and developmental disabilities, presented to stakeholders on the progress toward building a high-quality, sustainable behavioral health system in the state.

Photo courtesy of Debbie Atkins.


Photo courtesy of Debbie Atkins


Recovery-Focused Technical Assistance pilots with four DBHDD providers

DBHDD provides community-based, recovery-oriented care to help people live meaningful and fulfilling lives. The department is partnering with the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN), the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA), and the Georgia Parent Support Network (GPSN) to offer Recovery-Focused Technical Assistance. This program supports community provider staff by sharing practices that promote a recovery-focused approach to all services. The organizations involved with this work are part of the Georgia Recovery Initiative, which seeks to promote recovery in Georgia.

“DBHDD, through the Office of Recovery Transformation, is building community recovery partnerships with community providers, stakeholders, and families,” said Office of Recovery Transformation Director Mark Baker, whose team is leading DBHDD’s efforts with the program.

CSB of Middle Georgia staff with program facilitators. Photo credit: Dina McDonald
CSB of Middle Georgia staff with program facilitators. Photo credit: Dina McDonald

Funded by DBHDD, the program has piloted with the CSB of Middle Georgia (Dublin), Advantage Behavioral Health (Athens), Cobb-Douglas CSB (Marietta) and Community Friendship (Atlanta). A team of facilitators, made up of consultants Dr. Dietra Hawkins and Dr. David Stayner, along with Brent Hoskinson and James Guffey of GMHCN, and Owen Dougherty and Tony Sanchez of GCSA, conducted the workshops and are continuing with follow-up technical assistance at each organization.

The program’s goal is to help provider staff make recovery sustainable for the people they serve. “This means supporting people as they move toward the life that they want to live, a joyful and happy life, that is based on their goals, dreams, and aspirations,” said Brent Hoskinson, one the program facilitators. “We are seeing amazing projects coming out of this process that organizations can put into practice almost immediately.”

The Recovery-Focused Technical Assistance program encourages collaboration between DBHDD’s providers on effective strategies for sustaining recovery. “What better process could there be than one that offers to our providers the opportunity to build on what they already know, what works best in their local community, and gives them an opportunity to learn from the successes of others?,” Hoskinson said.

“I was truly amazed at the energy, excitement, and participation during the two-day learning event,” said facilitator James Guffey. “By working in collaboration, as an inclusive team, this really mirrored what recovery is all about.”

Staff at CSB of Middle Georgia, the initial pilot site, gave the program rave reviews. Read what they had to say below:

“I learned so much and am looking forward to working with this group of people.”
Shannon Corso

“My experience with [the workshop] was amazing. I learned so much about myself and my fellow co-workers. I developed a strong bond with many co-workers that I had never met before or knew very little of. It strengthened my commitment to my job as well as the individuals that I serve.”
Ashley Lewis

“I am grateful and blessed that I work at CSB of Middle Georgia and about how open and enthused we all are in the positive changes to come.”
Lisa Clark

“I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop. We were visited by many wonderful people, including Dr. Dietra Hawkins and Dr. David Stayner who helped us reignite the fire in the employees here in Central Georgia. Sometimes we start to lose sight, or forget, about what really matters: improving people’s lives. The [workshop] helped us put this back into perspective and helped us realize that change was not as difficult, nor as scary, as it seemed. Now, we have begun some small success projects and we’re also discussing the future — bigger successes. I know we truly have become an even more recovery oriented center with your assistance, support and encouragement.”
Elizabeth Button

“I really got a lot out of the training. It helped me to see that the people we help do have a voice. For me as a recovering person that is very encouraging. It also encouraged me to share my story. I really want to help others find that hope that they too can get well and recover from addiction, mental illness, or whatever the problem is. You can recover!!! How bad do you want to recover?”
Cynthia Thigpen

“When our team started out…, I believed that we would all learn new things. I absolutely had no idea that the two days spent with our Change Team and Change Team 2 members would have been as inspiring and humbling as they were. Dr. Dietra Hawkins, Dr. David Stayner, along with Owen Dougherty, Brent Hoskinson, Tony Sanchez, and James Duffey, were without blemish in their methods of keeping us on task and our eyes and hearts focused toward recovery. It was an emotionally-laden two days, but a wonderful opportunity to build our team relationships, both individually and collectively. It was the absolute best kick-off training to being a more recovery-focused agency that I have participated in during my tenure with the CSB of Middle Georgia. Our clinical, support, and administrative staff, as well as our staff with lived experience are excited to be participating with DBHDD as a pilot with regard to [the] training, and we look forward to seeing the fruits of our labors in the projects that we are undertaking at our agency,  as well as the ripple effect that will occur in our community following our symposium, which is planned for April 10, 2015. The excitement, energy, and inspiration from those days in late February continue to resonate at our agency. We are looking for exceptionally good things to happen here throughout the weeks and months to come.”
Denise Forbes, CEO

DBHDD unveils new vision and mission statements

DBHDD unveiled new vision and mission statements this week emphasizing the agency’s commitment to providing high-quality care to people with behavioral health challenges and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Easy access to high-quality care that leads to a life of recovery and independence for the people we serve.

Leading an accountable and effective continuum of care to support people with behavioral health challenges, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a dynamic health care environment.

“At every level of our work, we are committed to providing easy access to high-quality care,” said Commissioner Berry. “The new vision and mission statements reflect the work we have focused on for the last several years.”

This marks the first change to DBHDD’s vision and mission statements since the agency was created in 2009.