Steinberg Institute
Steinberg Institute 2021 Mental Health Champions

Presenting Our 2021 Champions It’s never been more critical to ensure that mental health support and services are available to all Californians. Fortunately, there are dedicated visionaries and crusaders across the state that are working to do just that. We are pleased to present the Institute’s 2021 Mental Health Champions – and we thank them for their incredible dedication and service.

With Community Support, a Child War Refugee from Afghanistan Overcame Loss and Trauma to Become a Peer Pioneer

Khatera Aslami Tamplen was just a toddler when she and her parents fled Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of her country. Her family had just found out her father was on a list of pro-American sympathizers targeted for execution, so they had to escape by night.

It was a terrifying journey. Her family missed the first truck sent to smuggle them out, and only later found out that truck was blown up by a Soviet jet. Sick and feverish, they were crammed into caravans with other refugees, robbed at gunpoint and forced to hide under bridges while Soviet tanks and jets rumbled overhead.


A “Selfless Transformation Agent” Unafraid to Share His Pain and Help Others Work Through Their Own

David Bartley may be the hardest working man in suicide prevention and also one of the most vulnerable. He has experienced both horrible abuse and deep depression and found a path forward. In the hundreds of talks and trainings he does, he doesn’t hesitate to mine these experiences and share them with his audience – along with some good animal stories.

Kristene Smith, chief executive officer of Mental Health California, calls Bartley a “selfless transformation agent” in the mental health world. “His words sear into you, like daggers of love, digging through your soul to get you to the other side,” she says. “By inspiring others with his deepest pain, we are able to reach new plateaus in suicide prevention throughout California and beyond.”


Out of Tragedy, A Bereaved Boyfriend and a Family Work to Create Lasting Meaning — and Ease the Pain of Others

In January, Steinberg Institute Executive Director Maggie Merritt received a wrenching email. “My name is Terrance, and my boyfriend has struggled with bipolar disorder since he was 12 years old,” the message said. “In September, after being off his meds for five days, he jumped in front of a light-rail train and finally ended his struggle.”

The email, from Terrance Farrell, went on to say that even though the death of his boyfriend, Cameron Cosentino, “was very traumatic for me, and still is,” he and Cameron’s mother, Vickie Cosentino, “wanted to do something in Cameron’s name” to spare other people from the same fate and to raise awareness about mental health issues. “I started a fundraiser on my Facebook page with all donations going to the Steinberg Institute and we’ve raised $1300.”


Full of Mad Black Pride, She Tells Her Story and Helps Others Tell Theirs

Kelechi Ubozoh spent her childhood straddling two different worlds. She spent summers with her Nigerian father in New York, where she was born, and the rest of the year in suburban Atlanta, where her African American mother worked as a doctor. In Georgia, “I just didn’t fit in,” she says. “I was a Black Goth in Stone Mountain, Georgia.” (Which also happens to be a birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan.)


A Power Broker Goes Public in the Fight Against Stigma – and Strikes a Resonant Chord

Early last year, Lenny Mendonca was at the top of his game – an adviser and confidante to Governor Gavin Newsom and chair of California’s High Speed Rail Authority. He had influence, power and respect – a status built on years of hard work.

Mendonca had come a long way. He grew up on a dairy farm in Turlock, balancing ranch chores with schoolwork. In high school, he edited the school newspaper and became student body president, before heading to a completely different environment as a student at Harvard – the first in his family to attend college.


An Advocate for Depressed Children Who’s Been There – and Now Works to Reduce Suicides

Monica Nepomuceno has something in common with the protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel: She wants to save all the children in danger of going over the edge of some crazy cliff.

In Nepomuceno’s case, she spends each day battling for all the schoolkids and teens in California who suffer from suicidal thoughts or other mental health disorders.


A Drive-By Shooting Near a Counseling Session Launched a Career Pivot to Help Create Social Change

When a counseling session she was conducting with an already traumatized little girl was interrupted by gunfire, Le Ondra Clark Harvey came to a realization: If she really wanted to have the kind of impact her patients so urgently needed, she needed to transform the world beyond her office.

Her epiphany came during an in-home therapy session with a child in South Central Los Angeles, who she was seeing as part of her work as a post-doctoral fellow at UCLA.


Overcoming Bullying and Anxiety to Become a Mental Health Advocate for LGBTQ+ Immigrant Youth

In some ways, Juan Acosta had plenty in common with other kids in Woodland, California, where he grew up. He had moved there with his parents from a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, at the age of 2, joining a town with a large Latinx population.

But kids of any culture can be cruel, and long before he’d come to his own conclusions about who he was and who he loved, he was being picked on by other kids and labeled as gay — only that wasn’t the word they used.