Fountain House Stands Up to Mental Illness

New York, N.Y. I thought I knew charity events, but I was not prepared for the magnitude of the recent Fountain House symposium and luncheon in the Grand Ballroom of The Pierre that raised over one million dollars for a premier New York City mental health program. I was riveted by the professionals who spoke on ‘The Changing Mind.’ More than 500 attendees were captivated for over two hours. Simply a brilliant panel.

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Professor Elyn Saks, author of The Center Cannot Hold and who lives with schizophrenia,
spoke at the Fountain House luncheon. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography.

Seeing the crème de la crème of high society gathered to address mental health issues was inspiring. Almost all families have had brushes with mental illness: obsessive-compulsive behavior, addiction, even psychosis. Estimates are that 25% of America is affected by mental illness, and serious mental illness affects 6 percent of people in the United States each year.

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Honoree Mark Vonnegut, M.D., Fountain House Board chair Lorna Hyde Graev and
Fountain House president Kenn Dudek at the luncheon. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography.

With Consuelo Mack as Master of Ceremonies, the panelists were: Joseph T. Coyle, M.D., Eben S. Draper Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School; Brian M. D’Onofrio, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University; and Elyn R. Saks, Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, University of Southern California Gould School of Law. Elyn, who lives with schizophrenia, chose to write her book The Center Cannot Hold under her own name, although people around her suggested she use a pseudonym. She was tired of hiding her mental illness. As Elyn notably said, “My mind is my best friend and my worst enemy.”

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One panelist noted, “Medication is important. Therapy is important. Friendships are important.”
Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography.

Dr. Mark Vonnegut was honored at the luncheon, and it was uplifting to hear about his triumph over formidable mental challenges. Diagnosed with serious mental illness as a young man, he recovered sufficiently to receive an M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School, where he is currently an instructor of Pediatrics. Mark chronicled his ongoing struggle with his illness in two memoirs, The Eden Express and Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So. I remembered with nostalgia having presented an award to his father Kurt at the Yale Club in the 1980s.

Video of Fountain House member/Fountain Gallery artist Jonathan Glass (Jazz Drawings).

Fountain House has an extraordinary network of allies. Under the leadership of Board chair Lorna Hyde Graev and president Kenn Dudek, Glenn Close and Patrick J. Kennedy are among the Honorary chairs of the event. Prominent supporters include Mercedes Bass, Joan Ganz Cooney, Charles Avery Fisher, Agnes Gund, Ronald Lauder, Ambassador John Loeb, Richard Parsons, Peter Peterson, and Carl Tiedemann.

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Fountain House member/Fountain Gallery artist Jonathan Glass with his Jazz Drawings.
Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography.

Every day, hundreds of members, people living with serious mental illness, come to Fountain House to contribute their talents, learn new skills, access opportunities, and forge friendships. Members and staff operate successful employment, education, wellness, and housing programs — even a dedicated art exhibition space, Fountain Gallery on Ninth Avenue. Working together, members and staff create a culture that transforms lives and reduces the stigma surrounding mental illness. The Fountain House model has been replicated in more than 400 locations in 30 countries and 32 states and currently serves more than 55,000 people worldwide.

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Mark Vonnegut, M.D., pediatrician and instructor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School
was honored at the luncheon. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography.

I am proud to support Fountain House and its community-based approach to assisting people living with mental illness in their recovery. Fountain House is about relationships, and not only between its members and the professional, caring staff: Members are encouraged to engage with each other to regain their productivity and self-confidence, resume their lives, and re-enter society.

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Fountain House symposium and luncheon held in the Grand Ballroom of The Pierre.
Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography.

Having been raised by a child psychologist in a family that has not been insulated from mental illness, I stand up and applaud the high standards set by Fountain House and its many members who refuse to see mental illness as a barrier to life.

Special thanks to Lorraine Cancro, MSW, Director of the Global Stress Initiative, and Robert Cancro, M.D., Med. D.Sc., Professor and Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, who advise both Fountain House and The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation.

Fountain House
425 West 47th Street
New York, N.Y. 10036
212.582.0341, ext. 1183

Fountain Gallery
The premier venue in New York City representing artists with mental illness
702 Ninth Avenue @ 48th St.
New York, N.Y. 10019
Tues-Sat: 11am-7pm; Sun: 1-5pm

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Originally published as “Mental Illness Tackled at Fountain House Luncheon in NYC.” (Daily Kos)

Art | Health | New York | Social Responsibility

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce ( writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (, he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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