BEAU KIRKWOOD, executive director of The Chas Foundation, was presented an award by the city of Norfolk and the Norfolk Police Department for his dedication as a trainer in the department’s Crisis Intervention Team program. The CIT training was started in October 2014 to improve the way Norfolk law enforcement responds to calls from people experiencing mental health crisis and their families. The Chas Foundation, a nonprofit, provides resources for the mentally ill and their families. “We are very pleased that Beau is highly accomplished in sharing [specialized communication] techniques with the Norfolk officers,” said Tucker Corprew, president of The Chas Foundation. She is Beau’s mother and also the mother of Chas Kirkwood, who committed suicide in November 2011.
A LITTLE HISTORY
“I’m from Norfolk, graduated from Maury High School in ’99 and continued my education at Colorado State University. I received a bachelor of science in natural resource management and proceeded to go into accounting work. I worked at an accounting firm for three to four years.”
COPING WITH A MENTALLY ILL BROTHER
“It was at that time that my brother, who was bipolar and had schizophrenia, was just getting worse and worse each year. I ended up moving back from Colorado to help with him toward the end of his life. We encountered a lot of issues with trying to find assistance and support for people going through a mental health crisis. There just wasn’t anywhere to turn. That’s when we decided to start the foundation to assist those suffering from mental illness and their families, too. We started this foundation to identify some of the major gaps that existed in the mental health world.”
DRAWN TO NONPROFIT
“I’ve always been in the business of helping people. I’ve just always had that desire, but I just hadn’t yet found my calling or a reason to go into nonprofit. But seeing what happened with my brother and going through everything we felt we could do for him was absolutely heartbreaking. That’s where my true desire to help people who had to go through what he and my family did really started.
“I haven’t been educated in the field of mental health. I haven’t studied at the top medical schools, but what I have done is lived it for 25 years in dealing with my brother and now trying to help others. That knowledge and experience is what helps me assist and provide relief to those who are suffering. I feel like our organization can speak up for those who are mentally ill and actually help our community grow stronger and be healthier.”
HIS ROLE IN THE ORGANIZATION
“What I do with the organization is pretty much everything: all the office work, the database work, fundraising, event planning, all the marketing and advertising, I’m the CIT instructor. I could keep going.
“I feel like I was prepared for my current position through my schooling in Colorado. The program I took was set up as if you own a small business. I’ve always tried to be kind and respectful to people, and I hope that I receive that back from people. That combined with being in business really gave me the tools to start this nonprofit. Having experience in bookkeeping, accounting, office work and Microsoft prepared me to have the business side taken care of while I go out and actually connect with people and really figure out how to provide relief and make someone’s life better.”
“I think the biggest challenge is that this has never been done before. There are not many organizations out there that are doing what we are, and that’s because there’s just been uncertainty on how to treat people suffering. We’re at a point as a society that we’ve got to start addressing this and putting all the people that are pieces of this mental health field together. I just don’t think we’ve been addressing mental health as much as we should be and need to. Mental health is so crucial to our whole well-being as a community.”
“My greatest pleasure is being able to provide support and assistance to those who haven’t been able to find that anywhere else.”
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
“I see us continually growing and filling some of the gaps like working on legislation with [State Sen.] Creigh Deeds and trying to get some laws passed. I think setting up programs will be really key for us. When you have these illnesses and there is no protocol or plan to treat them, then it really is crucial to figure out programs or services to make their lives better in that family.
“We’re trying to get these programs in place but at the same time draw awareness to mental illness and help eliminate the stigma surrounding it. We have to let people know that it’s OK to talk about it and it’s OK for their loved ones to be sick. It’s a huge barrier for those who go through it. It’s about what’s going to help better our lives and community.”
WHEN I HAVE SPARE TIME
“I’ve always been an outdoors person. That includes hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, fishing and especially surfing. I do my best to make sure that I stay mentally healthy because obviously that is critical for me when I’m helping people deal with these difficulties. With this organization, I find that I’m pretty much working all the time and I get to surf occasionally. I’m getting married next month and just trying to maintain a simple life. I also love spending time with my family and friends. After going through the tragedy that I endured, quality time with loved ones is extremely important to me.”
Thornton, B. (2015, July 17). “FIRST PERSON: Beau Kirkwood.” http://insidebiz.com/news/first-person-beau-kirkwood