The Chas Foundation: Tragedy Turns to a Mission for Supporting Mental Health
Tucker Corprew knows firsthand the devastating effects mental illness and lack of available resources can have on a family. Her middle son, Charles H. Kirkwood – nicknamed Chas – was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and psychosis in his early twenties. Corprew said Chas experienced a nervous breakdown and later attempted suicide. He was treated at a psychiatric center but there were no long-term beds available for him at a state hospital, she said. Chas tragically lost his life to suicide at age 34.
This life-altering experience gave Corprew, an owner of two local consignment shops and retired healthcare supervisor, her new mission. She did not want other families to have to go through what hers did, and she recognized that additional support was sorely needed in the region as well as community outreach programs related to mental illness.
Corprew established The Chas Foundation in honor of her late son in 2012. It is a Norfolk-based nonprofit which seeks to advocate for those living with a mental illness, increase access to effective treatment, and provide support for family members dealing with their loved one’s mental illness.
In 2019, The Chas Foundation received a $54,000 two-year grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to hire a peer counselor and social worker for its Mental Illness Navigator and Support Program (MINS). The program connects families to local and national providers for their loved ones experiencing a variety of mental health issues, which range from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, to postpartum depression and anxiety. Corprew serves as the peer coordinator.
“Once they reach out, we get the history and start developing an action plan,” she explained. “Wherever the gap is, we are now able to more adequately and comprehensively support them in connecting them to a resource to address their mental health need.”
According to Mental Health America of Virginia, the Commonwealth ranks 47th among all states for adults with a mental illness who reported they were not able to receive the treatment they needed. It also stated more Virginians have developed mental health symptoms as a result of the pandemic, due to grief, joblessness, and the loss of insurance benefits.
The MINS program also provides clients with legal assistance and financial planning resources as well as helps with food, housing, mental health services, and counseling.
“Through MINS, we recently got a 20-year-old who was suicidal in front of a psychiatrist right away,” Corprew explained. “Without the intervention of a program like this, it takes eight weeks for a patient to see a psychiatrist.”
In collaboration with Eastern Virginia Medical School and other community partners, the MINS program also launched the Norfolk Mentally Healthy Resource Guide for Norfolk residents to access mental health services. Corprew and The Chas
Foundation initially connected with the Hampton Roads Community Foundation in 2012 when trying to establish their nonprofit locally. Corprew began meeting with Linda Rice, vice president for grantmaking at the community foundation.
“She helped walk me through the grant writing process and gave me a lot of guidance and best practices on what to do as a nonprofit,” Corprew said. “We always knew we could come to the community foundation because they work with so many different civic-minded groups as well as prominent voices within the business community. We were able to grow because of them – they have been the driver.”