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2009 Behavioral Health Champion: J. Michael Armstrong, MA, MBA

November 1, 2009
by Dennis Grantham, Senior Editor
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Position: CEO

Organization: Community Hope, Inc.

Location: Parsippany, New Jersey (http://www.communityhope-nj.org)

Service Area: New Jersey

Services: Housing and behavioral health services to individuals, including veterans, recovering from mental illness and co-occurring disorders.

Staff: 250

Though a Vietnam-era Army veteran, Mike Armstrong readily acknowledges that, as a clerk-typist stationed in Brooklyn, he never faced the stress of combat or the sadness of coming home from an unpopular war. But today, decades after the war ended, he and Community Hope, Inc. continue to serve on behalf of hundreds-veterans and civilians alike-seeking to come home through recovery from the trauma of war, institutionalization, substance abuse, and serious or co-occurring mental illness.

“Our mission is to provide housing for people who wouldn't otherwise have it,” says Armstrong, explaining that “you can't focus on recovery until you know where you're going to sleep at night.” He traces Community Hope's roots to a small group of “founding mothers” who sought to give their children with mental illness a richer, more independent life by establishing several still-thriving group homes in the mid-1980s.

During Armstrong's ten-plus years leading Community Hope, the group's residential programs have expanded six-fold, comprising 40 locations and serving 300 individuals daily, primarily in New Jersey's four northern counties. Thanks to the group's effectiveness in building awareness and raising funds, its programs have continually branched out. Its leading programs include:

Hope for Veterans, which serves 95 honorably-discharged veterans with mental health or substance abuse diagnoses and provides up to two years of housing with case management services, recovery support, and employment training.

Transitional Housing and Supportive Living, which provides support services for young adults and individuals in group home and independent-living settings.

CHAMP and Partnership Programs, which offer those discharged after long periods of hospitalization a chance to transition through residential housing on the grounds of the institution as a first step toward community reintegration.

Despite the constant pressure of declining funds and increasing needs, Armstrong and Community Hope remain energized. “Our staff knows that we do noble work, but that we don't necessarily get paid a lot for it,” he says. “It's a great group of people, which still includes two of our founding mothers. Everyone works well together and are the best at what they do.”

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 November-December;29(10):15