Jane Ellis at VOCAL tableVOCAL is Virginia’s statewide network of people who embrace their mental health challenges and work together to heal communities. We organize and empower individuals to create broad-scale social change by transforming individual lives, local communities and the mental health service delivery system.

Membership is free to all who identify as “peers,” people who either now or in the past have experienced emotional turbulence, mental health crisis, or extreme states of consciousness (commonly labeled as “mental illness”). We also encourage honorary members who do not personally experience mental health challenges but want to partner in our work. Join us today.

Our values guide all the work we do. VOCAL creates programs that respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people, regardless of their current or past mental state, diagnosis, or use of medications. We also value the right to self-determination and the important contributions of peer support and self-help.

Read more about our Mission and Vision.

VOCAL is 100% peer-run, meaning we are staffed and managed entirely by peers.  Feel free to reach out to our staff and board members directly or call our office at 804-343-1777. Learn more about other peer-run programs in Virginia, the United States and the world.

VOCAL’s work

Our initiatives are carried out through four core program areas:

As a sampling of what we do:


VOCAL’s history

Brian Parrish, Cassandra Nudel and other leaders founded VOCAL in 1999 as the “Virginia Organization of Consumers Asserting Leadership.”(Consumer is a word similar to “peer,” based on the idea that many peers ‘consume’ mental health services. Enjoy this history of the mental health consumer movement from our friends at the National Empowerment Center.)

The core mission then, as now, was to organize so that peers could connect with and support each other and offer a strong voice in reforming and creating alternatives to the medical model of mental health service delivery.

We are grateful to Brian and Cassandra for their vision and passion and leadership that laid a strong foundation for the work that VOCAL continues to achieve today.

From the VOCAL Staff
It is with sorrow that we inform you of the death of our friend, Alison Hymes. The following is an excerpt from Alison’s obituary, published in Charlottesville’s newspaper, “The Daily Progress” on August 13th.
Alison Bowman Hymes died on Saturday, August 5, 2017, in Charlottesville. She was 60. The daughter of the late Dell and Virginia Hymes, she was born on January 8, 1957, in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Oakland, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she graduated from Friends Select High School in 1974. She received a BA in English from Bryn Mawr College in 1978 and an MA in Counseling Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981. She worked in Philadelphia as a mental health counselor for several years. After moving to Charlottesville in the mid-1990s, she became a dedicated and accomplished advocate for the civil rights of people with mental health disabilities. Despite facing her own mental and physical health challenges, she would eventually serve on the Virginia Mental Health Planning Council as both Secretary and President and, in 2008, on the Task Force on Civil Commitment of the Virginia Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, on which her fellow members remembered her as a relentless and eloquent advocate for the citizens of Virginia potentially subject to involuntary commitment. She also served as Virginia Coordinator of PsychRights: Law Project for Psychiatric Rights. In 2011 she received an award for her years of mental health advocacy at the Mental Health Peers Conference of the Virginia Organization of Consumers Asserting Leadership (VOCAL). She was active in numerous progressive political causes and followed political news avidly until shortly before the end of her life. She was also a poet, essayist, and satirist. She was a lifelong animal lover and found great joy over the years in caring for her cats Cagney and Lacey and her dogs Phoebe, Gandhi, Squeaky, and Molly.
Memorial donations may be made to On Our Own of Charlottesville or to VOCAL, Inc., mental health service organizations.