It is with a fair amount of sadness and more than a bit of nostalgia that I bring you the news that Georgetown University will no longer be hosting the Training Institutes. For many involved in the children's mental health field, the Georgetown Training Institutes has always been an important conference to attend. The conference provided a unique opportunity to connect with colleagues, learn about the latest practice modalities, and get energized about important and innovative work being done in children's mental health.
I had the pleasure of attending all but one of the Training Institutes, beginning with the first, held in Breckenridge, Colorado in 1986. At that time, I was working for Dr. Lenore Behar, who headed up children's mental health services for the state of North Carolina. She sent me to the Institutes, and for that, I will always be grateful to her. As a young aspiring system of care evangelist, that first meeting in Breckenridge opened my eyes to a national network of extremely dedicated and committed children's mental health professionals, that until then, I didn't even know existed.
I have so many wonderful memories of that first meeting, but one that stands out for me was meeting Harry Schnibbe, the founder of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. Harry swore like a sailor, and would call out bullshit before the words could leave the offenders mouth. I remember seeing him stroll into a meeting full of suits, dressed in an old polo shirt and khaki's, completely owning the place with a "you got a problem?" look on his face that instantly told you who was in charge.
I was in the first hours of my first time attending the Georgetown Training Institutes and I was sitting across from Harry Schnibbe in a small meeting room, not sure who he was, but knowing I was liking what I was seeing. "You hungry?" he growled at me. Without waiting for an answer, or caring, for that matter, he continued, "Wanna get some good rainbow trout? Not that cheap shit you get in North Carolina, but some real fresh, good shit - I know a place." Harry had drank whiskey with Ernest Hemingway and had felt the wrath of Lyndon Johnson as a young legislative chief for Senator John Carroll. There was not a chance in hell that I was going to say no. I was in love.
And just like that, I was off to dinner with Harry and a group of his friends. I didn't know a soul, but Harry, without hesitation, instantly folded me into this strange mix of wildly passionate people who all shared a deep commitment to improving children's mental health in America. I was hooked.
If not for the Georgetown Training Institutes, I would have never had that unique encounter with Harry. A moment in time where I got to meet and interact with a larger than life figure who would inspire me for decades to come. My memories of Harry Schnibbe continue to inspire me today.
And that, Network faithful, was the magic of the Georgetown Training Institutes. Sure, there was much to be learned at the Institutes, but for me, the greater gift was the opportunity to meet and interact with amazingly inspiring individuals from across the country. Advocacy is hard work. Advocacy is draining work. And if you are going to sustain, you have to find ways to re-energize. The Georgetown Training Institutes provided a forum where I could always count on getting re-energized to continue doing the work I do.
If you have a memory of the Georgetown Training Institutes, take a moment to share it below.
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President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network