Health and Wellness Action Advocates

Health and Wellness Action Advocates

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Health and Wellness Action Advocates (HWAA) is an interactive advocacy group promoting mental health throughout San Francisco.  The economic downturn has brought about devestating budget cuts and service eliminations.  HWAA fosters the community collaboration and growth needed to protect and expand mental health services. 

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

About You
Mental Health Association of San Francisco
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name


Website URL
Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Mental Health Association of San Francisco

Organization Phone


Organization Address

870 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Organization Country
Your idea
Country your work focuses on
What makes your idea unique?

Thousands of San Francisco residents experience a mental illness each year. A spouse dies, and grief gives way to anxiety. A woman enduring chemotherapy falls into a depression. A teenager hears voices, and he doesn’t know why. But people recover from mental illness, if we have the systems in place to help. That’s what MHA-SF has been committed to since 1947.

MHA-SF and its programs work to cure the system, not just the symptom. We don’t provide the bed for a person who is homeless. We press for the laws that require the city to build low-income, supportive housing. We don’t treat the illness. We guide people to the assistance that’s right for them—and make sure those resources are available. Policy, advocacy, training and research are our tools in bringing about systemic change.

MHA-SF is different. No other San Francisco mental health organization takes our holistic approach to improving the system:

We are the first place many San Francisco residents turn when they realize they need help. Each year we connect hundreds of San Franciscans with the services they need.
We are leading the way on mental health in San Francisco and beyond.
We successfully advocate for laws and funding that will bring people a better quality of life.
Our leadership training programs and volunteer opportunities not only advance the fight for better mental health care, they prepare people for employment.
We encourage people living with mental illness to become advocates themselves, because we believe they must be empowered to pursue their own goals. Together, we direct policy. It means people with mental illness have a voice in their treatment.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had?

Recent accomplishments of HWAA include advocating for the following:
• Restoration of $20 million mental health program cuts to the 2008-2009 San Francisco City and County Budget
• Creation of six paid positions for individuals with mental illness to work on the implementation of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) within the Department of Public Health Community Behavioral Health Services
• $200,000 in funding from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for homelessness prevention of people who compulsively hoard in 2007-2008 budget cycle
• Restoration of $50,000 to MHA-SF Hoarding and Cluttering budget from San Francisco Board of Supervisors

In addition to increased access and availability of services, membership in HWAA allows people to further develop their confidence and create a strong political community. Interaction and a sense of community promotes pro-active advocacy from "the people" who rely on the public mental health system.


The HWAA work together as a community to collaboratively reduce and eliminate the barriers that stop individuals from seeking the mental health services they deserve. This collaborative voice is supported through continuous policy, education and advocacy trainings at monthly meetings.

As an organization, the Mental Health Association tries to boost owndership and enthusiasm for HWAA through community outings. For example in May 2009, HWAA members went up to Sacramento California to band together with thousands of friends standing strong against detrimental budget cuts. Another activity HWAA members are looking forward to is the annual San Francisco Symphony outing where Action Advocates get to kick back and relax to the sounds of the orchestra.


Over the years, over 115 Advocates have been trained and involved in advocacy on behalf of mental health in San Francisco. Many join together in times of need and support to keep morale high and fight for services.

Because of HWAA, the voices of the underserved in San Francisco have been and will be continue to be heard by policy makers. Every individual is welcomed and strengthened by this collaborative and its momentum will continue for years to come.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

Since HWAA has been in operation for some time, additional funding will help increase the effect of this community. The never ending budget cuts make it hard to remain upbeat and positive. Funding from organizations such as these will allow MHA-SF to further support and create opportunities for this group to get some hot meals, a nice night and further their advocacy and education training.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Every member of HWAA has significant ties to the causes they are advocating for. It is our hope that even if MHASF isn't there to coordinate such meetings and events that HWAA members will continue their advocacy, education and collaborative bond. However, we do not live in a perfect society so there is a chance that without our support and financial means HWAA will no longer be able to operate.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

In what country?
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Mental Health Association of San Francisco

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?

Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Being an advocacy, education and research entity makes it difficult to rely on the government funding that many other social services operate from. Therefore, we have to utilize our valuable partnerships to continue to make a difference.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

The three fundamental resources inherent to MHA-SF growth and sustainability is community, collaboration and support. Without these things MHA-SF would not be able to function. We rely on the support of our community members and their collaboration in all of our advocacy efforts.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

The Mental Health Association has been actively involved in the community of San Francisco for over 60 years. All of our programs have organically come out of our interaction with our staff and community members. Particularly, the idea of the Health and Wellness Action Advocates came out of the countless public policy meetings that were devoid of individuals who actually needed and used the services that were being discussed.

The main reason we, as an organization, have flourished is because we don't speak on behalf of "the people", we work with "the people" to speak for themselves.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

HWAA was developed by MHA-SF staff (consumer and professionals) in response to the need for policy and advocacy direction and leadership. Belinda Lyons, MHA-SF's executive director has supported the HWAA along with a dedicated team of professionals and consumers who work with to build their leadership and community involvement. Ms. Lyons began her career as a direct service provider providing counseling for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996 and has been working in the nonprofit sector in the areas of mental health ever since. At the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHA-SF), where she has worked for the last 9 years, she has worked to promote systems change improvements for the quality and availability of behavioral health care services for individuals in greatest need. For Ms. Lyons, this work rewarding because despite that people with serious mental illnesses are often the members of our community who are most disadvantaged, most vulnerable and most discriminated against she is inspired by supporting their leadership and development and to see what people can achieve. Her work in this field is part of a greater commitment toward promoting social justice and reducing social inequalities. MHA-SF is unique in that the organization addresses high impact systems approaches to improving the health of underserved populations and the organization’s approach is to partner with people affected first hand by mental illnesses and build their leadership skills to advocate for change.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

Community Behavioral Health Services