Column: Skyland Trail gets new chair, plans fourth campus

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, January 4, 2013

Skyland Trail, a nonprofit treatment facility for adults with mental illness, is starting a new chapter in its development.

After 25 years leading the board, Mark West has stepped down as chairman. He will be succeeded by John Gordon, president of Gordon Document Products and managing partner of its sister company — Perfect Circle Renewable Energy.

Also, Skyland Trail has just completed its third strategic plan, and it is working on developing an expansion plan and a capital fundraising campaign in the near future.

The leadership change is significant because West is the son of Charles B. West, the founder of George West Mental Health Foundation in 1982 and founder of Skyland Trail in 1989. Mark West spent about 18 months traveling the country to look at best practices in other facilities before helping his father develop Skyland Trail.

The family ties remain strong. The elder West, now 91, still visits the facility. Mark West is joining the Skyland Trail National Advisory Board. And his sister, Marjorie West Wynne, continues to serve on Skyland Trail’s board.

Although he’s not a member of the West family, Gordon has long-standing ties to Skyland Trail and the West family. Gordon joined the Skyland Trail Advisory Board in 1990, and then joined its board in 1997.

“We are light years ahead of what was available during our humble beginnings,” West said. “There’s not anything exactly like Skyland Trail in the country.”

Skyland Trail has three campuses with a total of 48 beds where adults can live as they recover from mental illness. It serves adults with bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses.

In 2011, Skyland Trail served about 300 residents, who stayed an average of 4.2 months. Young adults, between the ages of 18 and 25, represent 49 percent of its population.

In addition, Skyland Trail offers day treatment programs as well as vocational services and other educational and therapeutic programs.

Skyland Trail has gained national stature for its innovative ways of treating mental illness, and half of its referrals now come from outside of Georgia. Its new strategic plans calls for adding a fourth campus just for young adults.

“We have a real opportunity to increase our footprint and expand our ability to treat folks,” Gordon said.

Beth Finnerty, president of Skyland Trail since 1989, said that in all Skyland Trail serves a total of about 600 people a year on its three campuses. It does not accept any government funding, relying primarily on private support.

Finnerty said that Skyland Trail charges residents for its services, but if they can’t afford the treatment, it has a financial assistance program to help. It raises about $1 million through its annual “Benefits of Laughter” gala.

“One of the greatest gifts Skyland Trail has given our community is facilitating the discussion of mental illness,” Mark West said. “It takes courage to bring the subject of mental illness forward. And people are much more open to seeking help.”

Anderson Foundation gift

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has awarded $50,000 to the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. Truly Living Well operates the Wheat Street Garden in the Old Fourth Ward.

The Anderson Foundation was launched in July 2012 as a legacy to the late Ray Anderson, founder and longtime CEO of Interface Inc. Anderson, a devout environmentalist, was globally recognized for his pioneering work.

Civic League leadership

The Civic League for Regional Atlanta is entering 2013 with new leadership.

The new chair of the organization, which is focused on invigorating citizen engagement and developing regional leadership, is Denis Billups, senior vice president of business development and an executive coach for C Robinson Associates. Previously, Billups had spent 30 years with IBM Corp.

“We are looking forward to continuing to build the momentum of 2012,” said Billups.

Serving as the League’s new vice chair is Josh E. Rowan, head of transportation program and construction management for Jacobs Inc. throughout the Southeast.

The treasurer will be Cain Williamson, the transportation services manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The secretary will be Richard Brownlow, director of Georgia Municipal Water Services for engineering and consulting firm CH2M Hill.

The group’s immediate past chair is Robert Inman “Trey” Ragsdale III, who manages government and community relations for Kaiser Permanente.

Georgia Natural Resources Foundation

The Georgia Natural Resources Foundation has reason to celebrate.
In its first two years, it has given away $170,000 in grants to support projects as diverse as Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Georgia Outdoors” and restoring Georgia’s oyster habitat.

Dr. David Allen also was honored as the foundation’s founding chairman at a dinner Dec. 13 at Emory University’s Miller-Ward Alumni House.

The new board chair is Steve Levetan,a senior vice president of Pull-A-Part LLC.

Also, the foundation announced Georgia native Ben Stowers as its new executive director.

Most recently, Stowers served as a public affairs and communications specialist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

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