Stairways in the News

National suicide prevention event comes to Erie

Monday, March 23, 2015

Each backpack tells a story—a tragic one fraught with pain and suffering, but also one of latent hope for every passerby.

The bags to be displayed at Gannon University won’t contain supplies typically associated with college students, such as books, exams and errant, crumpled papers, but will instead be carrying the personal stories and testimonies of a life taken by suicide.

Gannon’s Active Minds chapter will host roughly 1,100 of these backpacks—symbolizing the number of students lost to suicide each year— on the school’s Friendship Green, West Seventh Street, and AJ’s Way, located between Seventh and Eighth streets, on Tuesday, April 14 as part of the Send Silence Packing® exhibit.

“This event brings up a lot of powerful emotions, but even more importantly an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about suicide and its impact on the community,” David McCartney, vice president of Gannon’s Active Minds chapter, said. “Seeing all of the backpacks will show students that it can happen to them or to those surrounding them and provide a chance for students to learn how to intervene in the best ways.”

Active Minds is a young adult advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness and increasing dialogue on the topic of suicide among college students. Each year, Active Minds displays Send Silence Packing, its signature awareness event, at campuses across the country.

Gannon’s Active Minds chapter, in coordination with Stairways Behavioral Health, is the first area school to bring Send Silence Packing to its campus. Gannon is one of 12 colleges that will host Send Silence Packing during its spring 2015 tour across the northeast that begins March 30.

Ashly Wyrick, president of Active Minds at Gannon, said Send Silence Packing is intended to increase discussion on the subject of suicide.

“This event will raise awareness to students, faculty, and community members that suicide does happen and it needs to be something we discuss to help prevent it,” Wyrick said.

In addition to the displayed backpacks, Send Silence Packing will also provide students, friends and family members the opportunity to obtain information and literature on mental health, suicide prevention and where to seek help.

The aesthetic element of more than 1,000 backpacks located in a high-traffic space on the downtown campus should draw the attention of people to the display, said Active Minds secretary Julia Williams.

“Send Silence Packing is an extremely powerful event because it targets passersby of the campus and community,” she said. “Its outreach does not require people to commit to attendance of the event. A student walking through campus on his or her way to class can experience a life changing and potentially life-saving display.”

While Gannon’s hosting represents Send Silence Packing’s Erie debut, it is not Active Minds’ first visit to the area.

While celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2011, Stairways hosted Alyson Malmon, Active Minds’ founder, for a speaking tour of three local colleges. As a result of her visit, Gannon and Mercyhurst universities each started student-run Active Minds chapters.

Malmon established Active Minds in 2003 as a junior at the University of Pennsylvania after her only brother, Brian, committed suicide at the age of 22.

Send Silence Packing was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2008 with a keynote speech by former congressman Patrick Kennedy. Since then, more than 300,000 people in 85 cities across the country have experienced the event.

In case of inclement weather, the event will be held at inside Gannon’s Waldron Student Center on West Seventh Street.

For more information about Active Minds or Send Silence Packing and a complete list of locations, visit

Stairways Names New Executive Director

Monday, January 26, 2015

Erie, PA  – The Stairways Behavioral Health Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Valerie Vicari will serve as the organization’s new Executive Director. Vicari will assume leadership of the community mental health care provider in early February, 2015.

“Valerie brings to Stairways a distinguished career leading and managing behavioral health programs,” said Dr. Kristine Nelson, Stairways Behavioral Health Board President. “We are confident that Valerie will help move our organization forward, as well as focus on client needs first and foremost.”

Vicari has served in progressive leadership roles for 15 years with the PA Department of Public Welfare, Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), including her most recent position as Director of the Division of Western Operations, with oversight of mental health programs in 46 counties across Western and Central Pennsylvania.

Vicari has been a leader in the implementation and management of the Pennsylvania Medicaid managed care program, HealthChoices. She has been instrumental in the development and statewide expansion of evidence based practices such as the Assertive Community Teams and Certified Peer Specialist programs.  

Vicari’s broad experience in federal and commonwealth health care reform initiatives will help keep Stairways properly positioned in a rapidly changing health care landscape.

“I believe individuals with behavioral health diagnosis can and should live in the community of their choice, with the very best treatment services wrapped around them,” said Vicari. “This can only happen when financially sustainable organizations, like Stairways, are rooted in best practices, and have clear expectations and outcomes to support their programs.”

Vicari received her undergraduate education from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She earned a Masters degree at Carlow College, Pittsburgh, Pa., in Professional Leadership for Management, Non-Profit Concentration.

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Pa. Governor Appoints Stairways CEO to Board

Thursday, June 21, 2012
William F. McCarthy, CEO and President of Stairways Behavioral Health, has been appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to the Board of Trustees of Warren State Hospital. McCarthy’s executive nomination was Senate confirmed by a vote of 47-0.

Warren State Hospital is one of six state mental health hospitals and serves 13 counties, including Erie, Crawford, Mercer and Warren.

In addition to maintaining acquaintance with the operations of the hospital, McCarthy will help to further the means and methods of improving relations and understanding between Warren State Hospital and the communities which it serves.

Specific areas of advisement may include Continuity of Care issues pertaining to housing, medication issues and community services, as well as budgetary constraints and challenges.

Stairways Center City Arts Receives Asset Grant from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority

Thursday, November 17, 2011
Stairways Center City Arts was among 14 applicants – out of a total of 25 – to receive community asset grants from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA). The grants were announced Nov. 10 , 2011 during a ceremony at the ECGRA office.

The Center City Arts application resulted in an award of $11,052., which will be used for studio arts programming and equipment upgrades to help cover general operational/instructional expenses.

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