Senator John Heinz


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The Heinz Awards


Joseph Rogers

Joseph Rogers receives the Heinz Award for the Human Condition for pioneering reforms in mental health care that have empowered consumers of mental health services and helped abate the stigma associated with mental illness.

A long-time advocate for user-designed mental health programs, Mr. Rogers has applied his personal experiences and frustrations with the health care system to help transform its delivery in much of the country. He rose from the depths of homelessness to propel the "consumer" movement in mental health care, winning a sea change in attitude within the establishment toward those who use - and now help direct - mental health services.

Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 19 and told that he was incapable of holding a job, Mr. Rogers spent the next few years in and out of state and local psychiatric hospitals. Upon his release, he descended into a life of homelessness and desolation until he eventually found treatment, and a place to stay at a YMCA in New Jersey. After fate led him to a job as an outreach worker at a mental health center, he moved in 1984 to Philadelphia, where he began work at the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP), then a small non-profit agency with a dozen staff members. It was there that he found his life's work. Over the past 20 years, he has expanded MHASP into a $14 million organization with 300 staff members, the majority of whom have mental illness. Today, he serves as MHASP's president and CEO.

From the outset of his career at MHASP, Mr. Rogers championed a new way of doing business, an approach that was rooted in the principle that individuals with mental illness - also called consumers of mental health services - are in the best position to govern and staff their own organization. To the mental health establishment, it was a heretical idea, but Mr. Rogers persevered, eventually winning concessions for his approach.

Under MHASP's auspices, Mr. Rogers founded the Self-Help and Advocacy Resource Exchange (Project SHARE), which became the umbrella organization for programs that provide such essential services as peer support, drop-in centers, housing, homeless outreach, mentoring and job training. He also has been instrumental in an ongoing effort to abolish the use of restraints in the treatment of patients in mental health facilities, and in working to reform the methods used by police in apprehending at-risk individuals with mental illness.

A front-line crusader who has helped to shatter stereotypes about those with mental illness, Joseph Rogers has provided transforming leadership. His contributions toward our understanding of the human condition have not only helped ennoble those who need mental health care but have broadened collective awareness about their needs, abilities and aspirations.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


May 2010 - Joseph Rogers, Chief Advocacy Officer of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP), will receive the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from Eli Lilly and Company. The award includes $15,000 for the non-profit organization of the honoree's choice. In 1984, MHASP hired Rogers to start support groups of individuals with psychiatric diagnoses - but he didn't stop there. For nearly three decades, Rogers (who was MHASP's President and CEO from 1997 to 2007) has worked tirelessly on behalf of individuals with behavioral health conditions. - PR Newswire

June 2005
- Rogers is honored by Philiadelphia Mayor John Street for recently winning the Heinz Award for Human Condition with a ceremony at Philadelphia's City Hall. The honors were presented by Mayor Street, who was quoted as saying, "Joseph Rogers is an inspiration." - US State News

April 2005
- Rogers is appointed to the Governor's Mental Health and Mental Retardation Advisory Committee by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. The committee works alongside the Governor and various other state offices to set statewide mental health policies and to plan programs concerning such issues. - The Center for Mental Health Services and Criminal Justice Research


5/24/2005 - Acceptance Speech

Oh, my goodness, I want to say Senator, I wish we were in another venue for this. We met a long time ago at an anti-war rally in Florida. We actually spent the afternoon together so we were young people back then. Look what's happened to us. We're getting old. I also had an opportunity to meet Senator Heinz in the mid-1980s. He was holding hearings on homelessness in Philadelphia, and I went there to raise a ruckus, because that's what you did back then. When I began to make some noise in the audience, Senator Heinz, very politely and graciously, told me to sit down and that I would have my turn. After I did get to speak, he came up to me after the hearing, and we had a very pleasant talk and it always surprised me how knowledgeable he was on some very complex issues related to homelessness and the mentally ill homeless. I also had a missed opportunity to meet him in 1988 when I was getting arrested for organizing a sit-in in his Philadelphia office. We had this idea that we'd bring homeless people in to this big federal building and we'd live there for a while sort of to demonstrate our issues. But we ended up getting arrested in the long run. Who would have imagined that 17 years later, I would be standing here receiving an award in his memory? I'm very pleased. I should add that the sit-in was not personal, and that Senator Heinz was a strong supporter for the programs to help those who are homeless. And we really wish he were around today in some ways to continue to that struggle.

Getting this award is beyond an honor. For me it's a spiritual experience. Over the last 10 to 15 years, I've come to believe in the power of prayer. I believe prayer can create positive energy that influences the courses of events on a level that is not understood. It's about having faith and believing that faith can move mountains. In the work I do, faith is important. My colleagues and I work on the systematic and individual levels. We help create changes in the system that affect the lives of people with mental illness and we help individuals with mental illness recover. I know that our work has an impact, but sometimes you have to have faith because each change may happen very slowly.

In the 20 years that I've been working at the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, we have seen some significant changes, including the movement from a hospital dependent mental health system to a community based system. We have also seen people with mental illness move from being passive recipients of care to playing a vital role in providing services to their peers. We've developed new and innovative models of peer-to-peer support, and we have seen these models replicated throughout the United States and in other countries, supported by research that proves their effectiveness. All this has given me great pride, not only in my work, but in the work of my friends and colleagues at the Mental Health Association and the many others active in the peer-support and advocacy movement of people with mental illness.

The Heinz Award is an answer to a prayer. It helps me personally in that it gives new energy to my work and to my life in general; but it goes beyond that. This reward gives credibility to the idea that people with mental illness can and do recover. It will help people understand that having a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, as I have, or schizophrenia, as many of the people will have is not the end of the road, and it can be overcome with appropriate services and supports. It will make it clear that people with mental illness can make great contributions to society. When I was 19 and a patient in a state hospital, I was told that I would never be capable of holding a job. This award will help prevent that kind of death sentence from being doled out to others like me.

So, on behalf of myself and my many friends, several of them here, and family who have had serious mental illness, I want to thank Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Philanthropies. And I also want to thank Senator Heinz, who I know is smiling down upon us. I feel as if I now have my own personal guardian angel, or an additional one at least in Senator Heinz, to help with my work. I want to thank all of them for this award. I have faith that this award to me will help many Americans look more honestly at the stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness. I have faith that it will help many Americans take one more step towards fulfilling its promise of liberty and justice for all. And I thank you all very much.
Joseph Rogers
Joseph Rogers