2021–2022 Mental Health Champions

Meet Our 2022 Mental Health Champions

Susan Parker

St. Louis, Missouri

Susan’s story is one of struggle, hardship, success and resilience. As a child, Susan was told she would never do or be anything because of her disability. During her teenage years, she moved to Missouri after being made homeless due to her mother’s passing. Facing loss and loneliness, Susan faced her challenges head on and enrolled in high school, eventually earning her diploma. Susan became a mom to her son in 2007, after her family and doctor tried to force her into giving him up. She fought hard for her son as they tried to take him away. She sought help and support through Nurses for Newborns and Parents as Teachers, always putting her son’s best interests first. Today, Susan is a hard-working single mom and a passionate leader on the education and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities in Missouri. She uses her life experiences to encourage and inspire others. Susan was instrumental in ensuring that the termination of parental rights due to disability was changed. She spends her time and energy on advocacy and civic engagement through People’s First of St. Charles County. Susan is determined and has been described as a “refreshing ray of sunshine” constantly working to grow her skills and knowledge. 

William Chaney

Kansas City, Missouri

William began using alcohol and drugs early on and continued to use for several years of his life despite the hardships he experienced. In July 2009, he made the courageous decision to enter treatment. Mr. Chaney entered Swope Health’s Imani program to learn a new approach to life, because in his words, “he was tired of being ugly.” His graduation from treatment did not mark the end of his journey, but the beginning. After graduating, Mr. Chaney showed up every day, volunteering countless hours to help his peers, clean the building, and provide support with no compensation. He would tell staff, “You are going to hire me one day,” even though there were no job openings. After 5 years of volunteering, he was hired as Imani’s first Peer Support Staff where he has now worked a total of 12 years and is the head of the Imani Alumni Program. Recovery is Mr. Chaney’s passion, and he lives it every day. He displays a positive attitude, going above and beyond, and using his story and the “Truth about Drugs” curriculum to show clients and youth in the community that they can overcome any addiction and become productive members of society. “Mr. Chaney has a big heart, but his passion for recovery is bigger.”

Steve Whyte

St. Louis, Missouri

As a young adult, Steve was told he was “too sick to work” by his doctors due to his mental illness. At age 29, Steve joined the Independence Center where he initially sat in a corner reading. However, Steve gradually began building his confidence, assisting the organization with program reports. Eventually, Steve began his transitional employment gaining confidence and work experience prompting him to seek permanent employment. After funding for his grant position was lost, Steve was unemployed for several years, but instead of sitting still, Steve joined the Independence Center’s Board of Directors, and volunteered as a Lived Experience Representative for the St. Louis CIT Council. “Steve uses his great sense of humor to share his personal recovery story and the battles he encountered throughout the process.” Steve has shared his life story with over 1,200 first responders and has likely impacted 10 times as many individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Steve’s hope is that when officers hear his story, they will come away with the understanding that behind the symptoms and behaviors they witness when responding to a call…this is a PERSON. This is an individual that you are seeing at their worst, but this is a person with hopes and dreams, family, friends and in many cases a job. In 2013, Steve found his “dream job” working for the St. Louis Gateway Arch as a tour guide. “Steve’s commitment to personal development has resulted in him living independently, maintaining a job where he excels, while he takes advantages of numerous opportunities to participate in community education to help reduce the stigma of others living with a mental illness.

Meet Our 2021 Mental Health Champions

Kailey Reeves

St. Thomas, Missouri

Kailey is a champion and example of resiliency for all individuals living with mental illness. She has been described as the energizer bunny as she continues to push herself to better her life, her family, and the clients she works with daily. She is mentally tough and will move mountains for the clients that she reaches. Kailey has been able to use the struggles she has endured in her life to educate people she meets about the trauma of her own life and inspire them to come to terms with their own mental illness. During the pandemic with everyone working remotely, Kailey built a PowerPoint presentation that was used with clients to help offer support and encouragement. Kailey can offer her perspective without offering judgement. Kailey goes the extra mile for the clients she engages with to find necessary resources and offers every single person the chance to be humanized. And every step of the way, this champion does so with kindness and caring.

Amanda Koch

Washington, Missouri

Amanda has grown in helping inspire others with disabilities. She has been an advocate with many programs. She is a member of the Athlete Leadership Committee and a trained health messenger for the Special Olympics. She has worked with other athletes on spreading the importance of maintaining health and how to participate in community activities that promote a healthy lifestyle. She is a graduate of Project STIR and an advocate leader. During the pandemic, Amanda showed her resilience by organizing her own way using social media – ZOOM and Facebook Live – to spread her message of health and wellness. While she has faced several challenges in her life, she has overcome each one. Amanda never thought she would be able to live independently and yet she has been successful in having her own apartment and job. Amanda was crowned Missouri Miss Amazing Senior 2020 but due to COVID, the nationals were not held. She will be a contestant at this year’s National Miss Amazing Pageant in Nashville Tennessee in July. Amanda is an inspiration to all with her “can do, never quit” attitude.

Dwain Strickland

Belton, Missouri

Dwain began using alcohol at age 12, sneaking into his parents’ liquor cabinet and in Dwain’s own words “This was the beginning and gateway into a deep adventure of heavy drug use, drug dealing, many countless acts of criminal activity that would feed my addiction at any cost.” His recovery journey is a story of resilience and commitment as well as making a positive impact in the community. He and his wife are successfully raising children and Dwain works full time in the maintenance department at Comprehensive Mental Health Services in addition to the work he does in the recovery community where he is very active with Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Dwain answers the NA phone line and chairs meetings for his Grandview home NA Group. He is also a sponsor for several others on their recovery journey. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dwain was able to work with his NA group to adapt to using Zoom so that groups did not discontinue meeting during times where shut-down orders were in place. Dwain is currently the Chair of the Advisory Board for CMHS and through his leadership and lived example he provides encouragement for others in their independence and growth to not letting mental health or substance use be a barrier for a successful, engaged life. Dwain is an advocate, a champion, and an inspiration to all.