As a child, Hope Haney loved watching The Lone Ranger show on television. Later, she became a fan of the Green Hornet and Batman. Haney eventually realized her TV heroes had one thing in common: they all fought for justice.
Haney’s three-decades of being a champion for justice of people with severe mental illness will be recognized Sept. 25 when she receives the Eagle Award from the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board. The award goes to someone who has “soared above” the average in giving a voice to the voiceless in the community, according to Duane Piccirilli, director of the agency. The virtual award ceremony will be streamed on Facebook Live. (https://www.facebook.com/Mahoning-County-Mental-Health-Recovery-Board-479156725598298/)
Haney, 61, has been executive director of the NAMI Mahoning Valley since 2015, but she has been an advocate for people with severe and persistent mental illness for 33 years. She earned a master’s degree in community counseling in 1987.
This has been a particularly difficult year for Haney since she lost her significant other to COVID-19 on March 25. She worked out her grief by helping deliver food, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to Mahoning Valley adult care residential housing facilities for people with mental illness.
Haney has always been a champion for people with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Part of her focus came from the 1995 closing of the Woodside Receiving Hospital, an 800-bed state psychiatric hospital in Youngstown. The closing, part of a national deinstitutionalization movement, resulted in many former hospital patients moving to group homes in the area. Some never found places to live and became homeless.
“A lot of people purchased large old mansions and started group homes,” Haney said. “Every NAMI affiliate takes on the personality of its community. This is ours. We speak for the people who have no voice.”
It’s been many years since the days when Haney watched The Lone Ranger, the western drama on TV from 1949 to 1957. But she hasn’t forgotten him or his fight for justice. In her kitchen, Haney has an old tin sign that once advertised bread. The hero on the sign is the Lone Ranger.