Rick Huber Looks Back On Time At MHA

Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, left, with Rick Huber, former Mental Health Association executive director, who will be celebrating his retirement Friday. Submitted Photo

“It’s been such a blessing,” said Rick Huber of his time at the Mental Health Association.

Huber, former MHA executive director, said the time he spent at the organization taught him a lot, but he doesn’t feel like he did anything special — he just opened the door.

“I had three rules: love God, love yourself and love everyone who comes through the door,” he said. “That’s the three rules we used to run the place, and it worked.”

Huber is retiring after 16 years of service to the association, which he said started out as a fairly small entity, and he originally served on the board. Then, several years ago, the decision was made to make the organization peer-based.

Huber said the model was successful, and there isn’t another organization like it in New York state.

“It’s grown tremendously over the years,” he said. “The success rate is high, and I know it will continue to grow under Kia (Narraway-Brigg’s) leadership.”

Over the years, Huber said working with the board of directors, the advisory board, officials from throughout the county and the people of the MHA has been “a blessing.” Huber said the best part of working at the MHA has been the success stories and getting to help so many people.

Part of the success of the organization is the lack of judgment people face there, Huber said. Rather than simply being an organization, Huber said he looks at it like a “big, dysfunctional family.” One of the greatest compliments Huber said he ever received was when someone told him he didn’t run the MHA like an executive director, but more like a “benevolent grandfather.”

“It’s been such a pleasure to watch people grow,” he said. “When someone would walk through the door, I’d think ‘I wonder who is really in there,’ and then we’d get to see.”

Huber said another factor that made the association successful was the availability of staff and peer counselors.

“We competed with the drug dealers,” he said. “If you want drugs, you can call at 2 a.m., but if you need treatment, you have to call Monday through Friday. We’re not like that — you can call me at 3 a.m., and our recovery coaches are on call just like I was.”

Huber said if he hadn’t recently been dealing with health problems, he would still be the executive director. However, Huber said he will still “keep his fingers in the pie,” so to speak. He said he is not sure in what capacity, but he will remain involved somehow.

Huber said he believes the association has helped bring the drug epidemic to the forefront of people’s minds, whereas before it was not spoken of. He said the association also helped combat stigma and were one of the first organizations to bring Narcan training into the area.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Huber said. “I love it and I will miss it.”

The association will hold a retirement recognition for him on Jan. 26 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 31 Water Street Suite 7, door 14 in Jamestown. A dedication and recognitions by Kia Narraway-Briggs, Mental Health Association executive director; Carm Micciche, board chair; and Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney, advisory board chair.

The event is being presented by the staff, board and the advisory board of the Mental Health Association.

“The Mental Health Association’s reception for Rick Huber is in recognition of his retirement from the organization, and it affords the MHA an opportunity to thank Rick for his tireless work, nurturing it through many lean years, helping many, many individuals get through troubled times. His inspiration, courage, persistence and hard work have paid off, and he formed an excellent organization doing good in the community,” Ney said. “He should be proud of his accomplishment.”

The Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County has been a peer run organization since 2005 when Huber became executive director. The next year he was joined by Narraway-Briggs and other part-time staff.

“Rick’s dedication to the MHA and the community he resides in, is like nothing I have seen before,” Narraway-Briggs said. “He has been a voice to those that have felt dismissed or hopeless. He has brought attention to systems issues while encouraging hope to his employees and individuals at the MHA. He is a fierce advocate.”

“It has been an honor to work with Rick these past five years, helping others realize that they are more than their experiences,” said Associate Director Steven Cobb.

Huber said he was not expecting a send off, and was hoping to go “softly into that good night.” He said he was humbled by the gesture, but felt that it wasn’t him that made the difference. Rather, it was the people and the changes he saw within them that made the difference.

The Mental Health Association is located at 31 Water St., Door 14, in the rear of the Gateway Center, in Jamestown. For more information, call 661-9044 or visit mhachautauqua.org or facebook.com/MHAChautauqua. A list of support groups and classes is at mhachautauqua.org/services.

Hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.