Virginia Organization of Consumers Asserting Leadership

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Virginia Organization of Consumers Asserting Leadership (VOCAL) is a nonprofit organization of people in recovery from mental illness. We are a community, support network, social change movement and self-help education program. Our organization was created by and for people who have experienced emotional and mental health crisis. VOCAL is based in Virginia and serves 700 members.

VOCAL focuses on creating broad-scale social change, as well as change in the lives of individuals. We work to transform the mental health system -- and create alternatives to the system -- by promoting mental health recovery, self-determination and peer leadership.

As people who have personally experienced mental illness, we work to create programs that respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people, regardless of their current or past mental state, diagnosis, or use of medications. We value and support self-determination and the many important contributions of peer support and self-help.

Firewalkers: Mystery, Madness and Beauty is a “living anthology” including a book of interviews, photo series, and outreach events where people can share their stories. The project goal was to reach out across our state with a message of a different way of viewing mental illness, and create a deeper understanding of what it means, and what is possible. The stories in our book, and the people in our book, show a different way of understanding the journey. This is a book of interviews that is different from the books that are already out there. Something that can really move people, open their hearts and minds, and help them see things in a new light. In December 2010, the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation awarded VOCAL $7,500 for Firewalkers[1].

VOCAL Network Founded and run by people with mental illness, this program connects people to people and works to improve Virginia's Mental Health Services. This program has given scholarships for conferences and education to over 300 people with mental illness. Our network offers support, information, and connection reaching a membership of 700 people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. We also train, mentor and support people with mental illness to advocate for themselves and others and to become leaders in improving the mental health system. n Recovery Education & Creative Healing This program promotes self-discovery and self-appreciation through improving life skills, and investing in personal recovery. We have trained over 100 people with mental illness to lead mental health recovery groups. We have educated over 500 people in how people can recover from mental illness and lead fulfilling and independent lives. We provide education and training on recovery and wellness. We also educate providers and mental health administrators to create programs that focus on recovery, hope, and healing.

VOCAL CO-OP A collective of 25 peer-run mental health programs, including drop-in centers, warm lines, advocacy groups, employment centers, and more. All our programs are designed, led, and governed by people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. We offer connecting communication and enjoyable peer support so that program leaders are living their visions and achieving their goals. We serve program leaders who seek change, peer support, and growth with mutual, professional community building.

Our staff and organization have been recognized with a Governor’s Recognition for Exemplary Contributions in Living the Vision of Self Determination, Empowerment and Recovery and a Virginia Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association Award for fostering recovery and independence for people with psychiatric disabilities.

The group is a participant in the 2010 Design Marathon sponsored by the Charlottesville Community Design Center.


  1. Web. More than $500,000 in grants awarded, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, December 15, 2010, retrieved December 15, 2010.

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