Sharon Jenkins Tucker
Atlanta Journal Consitution, August 28, 2022. Sharon Jenkins Tucker, MA, CPS, ITE, known as “Sherry” to all who met her, died in her sleep on July 11, 2022, which would have been a disappointment to Sherry, an avid collector of knowledge, of experience, of novelty, of information to share with others either to inform, to warn, to encourage, or simply to amuse. For her, this Next Great Adventure (as she referred to death, in a line borrowed from Albus Dumbledore) was one she faced with as much trepidation as any of us, but one in which she would have preferred to have a notebook handy to write down her observations to pass on to us, so we could learn from her experience.
Sherry served as the Executive Director of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Inc. from 2004 until her death on July 11, 2022, during which time she grew GMHCN from four employees to over 100, all with the simple task of making the world a better place by listening to other people, treating them with dignity and respect, and helping them to identify and achieve their personal goals by focusing on their strengths, and supporting them in the development of tools and skills to manage challenges presented by mental health concerns (or anything else).
By training people in recovery from mental health concerns to use their lived experience to support others, Sherry was able to provide hope, connection, and resources to people returning to their communities from psychiatric hospitals and incarceration, and help break generational cycles of institutionalization. She shared her experience, knowledge, and successful outcomes with any and all interested in supporting peers (people living with mental health concerns). And so from Decatur to Los Angeles to Australia there are countless beneficiaries of Sherry’s curiosity and generosity.
Of the many awards she accumulated over the years, two of her most cherished were the 2010 Isaiah Uliss Advocate Award by the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (PRA) and the 2009 Clifford W. Beers Award by Mental Health America. She disliked the personal spotlight at awards ceremonies, but she relished committee work, and always stepped up when she believed she could be of value, including serving as Chair of the Behavioral Health Services Coalition and the Georgia Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council. In recent years the board work she loved most was serving as the chair of the Vision Committee for the Atlanta/Fulton County Center for Diversion and Services, a project fueled by hope but forecast with doom as GMHCN was in its early years, and according to her, the reason she felt so drawn to support it.
Before joining GMHCN Sherry worked for the West Virginia Mental Health Consumers’ Association and directed their Mental Health Consumer Network and the West Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs. Prior to that, she was a Behavioral Health Advocate for Legal Aid of West Virginia for nine years. She was a vocal advocate for mental health recovery resources, and served as a leader in the movement to have people in mental health recovery trained and certified to use their lived experience to support others, and to be paid for that support: Certified Peer Specialists. The Georgia Model of CPS training, as it is known internationally, and in the 37 (and counting) states where it has been implemented, was developed in Georgia under the leadership of Sherry, the Appalachian Consulting Group, and colleagues at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, most notably Wendy Tiegreen, a steadfast champion of peer support.
Sherry had extensive experience with the recovery and wellness movement and her expertise with peer workforce development and mind/body/spirit wellness was widely recognized. Whole Health Action Management, now a standard mental health practice, can trace part of its roots back to Georgia. As GMHCN was beginning its own exploration of what Sherry called “the amazing discovery that our brains are attached to the rest of our bodies” the Health and Human Services Administration began exploring the mind/body connection, and GMHCN and HHS worked together building that early body of knowledge that informs mental health treatment across the globe today.
The globe was a place of great personal interest to Sherry—she wanted to see it all, personally. And she did see a great deal of it. Many of her favorite spots were in Mexico and the Caribbean, where she and her husband Randy spent many of their vacations and holidays together. Europe and the Middle East had their charms, but Sherry and Randy always returned to their cherished spot just around the Tropic of Cancer in the West.
While she dedicated her life to what she called “this great work we get to do,” she always remembered to have fun, to laugh, to dance, to make sure there was live music whenever and wherever she could. She loved to see and to buy crafts and art of all varieties everywhere she went, and to meet and talk to the artists and craftspeople, and express her enthusiasm for their work: She would clap at the sight of a beautifully detailed necklace in an airport kiosk, startling everyone except those who knew her. Anyone who spent enough time with Sherry grew to know that while extravagant praise costs nothing, it is incredibly valuable—especially to those who rarely receive it—and she provided encouragement whenever she could
She particularly enjoyed mentoring other women working to build peer organizations, but rarely discussed any one particular project publicly, because she believed that everyone should receive their full measure of credit for the work they do in communities, and that asking for help, and supplying it in turn, is the lifeblood of nonprofits, and the essence of peer support.
Learning about the lives of other people—what inspired them, what they longed for, what they did for work or for fun, who taught them, what they loved, what they dreamed—there was no subject too arcane or mundane to draw and keep Sherry’s attention, because it was never arcane or mundane to her: Everyone’s story mattered to her, and she remembered most all of them. And no matter how defeated a person might appear, she never gave up hope their story would change—that they, like she, would have a happy ending. As a person who experienced homelessness, institutionalization, and significant trauma, she knew the path to wellness was not always an easy one, and that it is best, if possible, not to take it alone.
Sherry is survived by her husband, best friend, and co-conspirator in the pursuit of joy, Randy, and their dog Mila and cat Scout. She is also survived by her brother Michael J. Jenkins and his wife Pamela of Albright, WV; two nephews, Michael Kiley Jenkins and his wife Lindsey of Oakland, MD, and Mathew A. Jenkins and his wife Robyn of Pittsburgh, PA; and niece, Kara M. Jenkins Tuttle and husband Seth of Bridgeport, WV.; as well as a quartet of great nieces and nephews, including Blake Jenkins, Aiden Jenkins, Nora Tuttle, and William Tuttle; her aunt Shirley Bollinger of Albright, WV, and a whole chorus of cousins and kin from WV, OH, MN, SD, and IN.
Her brother’s children held a special place in her heart, and she shared their accomplishments with the same pride of belonging as a parent. When planning took place for holiday events for peers shunned by their families, she would share her sincere and humble gratitude for a family that welcomed her, and celebrated her accomplishments.
Of her many titles, honorifics, and awards, ITE was Sherry’s favorite. “I’m The Evidence” that recovery works was a message that she carried wherever she went. Those of us who were honored to know her, fortunate to work with her, or simply benefitted indirectly and unknowingly from her many endeavors, we are the evidence that one person can change the world, and make it a better place. Because she did.
Sharon Jenkins Tucker
Anyone who spent very much time with Sherry knows how strongly she valued and encouraged not only self-determination, but also self-expression. She wanted to hear peoples' stories in their own words and voices. So rather than provide a list of the things we liked and admired about her, we are just going to leave this video here for a while--a souvenir of a time long past, of a person more recently passed, but whose essence--on lively display here--never changed.