Georgetown Training Institutes are no more

2 Comments | Posted

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.

Thanks, G-Town!

If you have a memory of the Georgetown Training Institutes, take a moment to share it below.

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Scott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network


  1. Andy Hunt's avatar
    Andy Hunt
    | Permalink
    I will miss the Georgetown Institutes. The first one I attended was 1996 in Traverse City, Michigan and have only missed one since then... Back in '96 I was working as a lead counselor at the Puyallup Tribal Health Authority. My boss went along with one other counselor, and we hoped to learn what others were doing to create children's mental health "programs" at the tribe. We listened to all the presentations, and particularly one by the Navajo Nation (the first tribe to get a Systems of Care grant from SAMHSA)and learned that systems of care was much more that just a "program." We took that learning and began to change our overall approach to providing services and tried to implement the systems of care values (without a grant). Over the next 20 years, I went the Institutes as a potential SAMHSA tribal grantee, a tribal technical assistance provider, and a SAMHSA project officer. I had the privilege of both being a regular attendee and a presenter. Most importantly I had the opportunity to network with some of the most brilliant and dedicated professionals, family members and youth leaders on the planet.

    I truly hope some group, or organization will pick up the ball and find a way to carry on the Institutes experience for a whole new generation of people.

  2. Sue Smith's avatar
    Sue Smith
    | Permalink
    It is with great sadness that I read this. For many years I would put it on my advance calendar it was "The Holy Grail" for all things System of Care and Children's Mental Health. As Scott has said the place to visit old friends and meet new ones. I did in fact meet many people at the first conference in Breckenridge which is at a very high altitude in the Colorado mountains. Many people that attended the conference became sick from the altitude. Norman and I shuttled many people to the doctors in town and a few to the airport. And then there was Traverse City ... each conference holds many great memories.

    Thank you Georgetown Team for many good year, for setting a high standard for the care of our children, for believing in the family movement, and for being my friend. Beth & Company thanks for your years of hard work making this the best learning experience ever. Love you all bunches. Sue

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