This Monday at the Be a Lifeline blog is a particularly special one. Why, you may ask? Because today we are honored to feature a story about George DelGrosso, our fearless leader, and to celebrate the remarkable work he does in the behavioral health community of Colorado. Please read below for an incredible post and interview from our very own Rikke Siersbaek!
Tomorrow, Tuesday April 21st, George DelGrosso, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC) and pioneering leader for Mental Health First Aid, will receive the Visionary Leadership Award at the 2015 Annual Conference of the National Council for Behavioral Health. George has dedicated more than 30 years to the mental health field, including the past 15 years at the helm of CBHC, the statewide association representing Colorado’s community mental health system and organizational home for Mental Health First Aid Colorado. Indeed, we have George’s visionary leadership to thank for the prolific growth of Mental Health First Aid in our state, establishing Colorado as a national leader for the program! To celebrate him and his many successes, I recently sat down with George to learn more about his life, his work and what I have come to call the “Colorado Way” in behavioral health.
About the Man
George grew up in rural Colorado and, true to his roots, has always been a hard worker. Whether harvesting sugar beets as a teenager, pouring concrete, or working in the restaurant industry (where he worked his way up to management – a leader even in his early years!), George has done a lot. As a young man, George also served in the United States Air Force and spent formative years stationed in South Korea. But eventually his passion for helping others led him to the field of behavioral health. Beginning his career as a therapist, he moved into program development and finally onto the path to leadership. George served as the Executive Director of the Mental Health Center in Cody, WY before moving to Colorado’s San Luis Valley to take on the Director role there. Recognizing his impressive acumen, George’s peers at Community Mental Health Centers statewide went on to select him as the CEO of their association, the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council.
A Remarkable Career
Through a career mostly spent in rural settings, George learned the importance of relying on other people and other organizations. As he told me, “the behavioral health field in Colorado is highly collaborative and brings people together where they feel safe in trusting each other and doing business together. Our approach is built on the understanding that we are powerful when working together.” Under George’s leadership, the CBHC membership has grown united in their common interest to improve the lives of Coloradans. They have created a unique “Colorado Way” in their commitment to working on behalf of each other with trust.
The power of this approach has led to many wonderful accomplishments for the field as a whole in our state. George has led collaborative efforts, in Colorado and nationally, to promote the integration of physical and behavioral health; helped pass countless laws to improve access and funding for mental health and substance use disorders; and championed dedicated funding from the State of Colorado for the expansion of Mental Health First Aid. George’s approach was also absolutely instrumental in making MHFA such a success in our state. In fact, when CBHC first brought Mental Health First Aid to Colorado in 2008, the trust and collaborative spirit among CBHC’s membership allowed us to create the first statewide model for growing MHFA in the nation. This model came to be known as Mental Health First Aid Colorado, with CBHC serving as the central coordination point for its members and partners that have invested heavily in the program and made it their own.
Passion for Mental Health First Aid
Here on the blog, different MHFACO staff members have written about our own passion for MHFA. George is also passionate about the program and adds a valuable perspective to why it is so important. George told me that for years the behavioral health field has been very focused on caring for people who are already very sick. While helping these individuals is important, he had been looking for ways to improve prevention and give tools to family members and friends to help before problems become serious. And with MHFA he found that tool for everyday community members. George is a modest man who was clearly more comfortable talking with me about the amazing brain trust he works with at CBHC and talented individuals throughout the behavioral health community in Colorado than about his own accomplishments. He told me about wonderful mentors throughout his career and the opportunities he has been given to be creative and innovative. When I asked what he does to make CBHC such a great place to work, he said responded that, “No matter where you work and what your role is, you have to treat people how you want to be treated.” George is part of the team – not outside of it – and he emulates it in how he interacts with everyone – the “Colorado Way.” George is committed to the belief that together we know more and can do more than we ever could alone. That is truly visionary leadership.
So, from us at the Mental Health First Aid Colorado team – Congratulations, George! And thank you for your leadership, vision, guts and dedication in bringing MHFA to Colorado. We love working for this mission and we wouldn’t be here without you!