Transformational leaders have an authentic voice. They understand that language helps create reality and that hope is essential for awakening the hero that lives in all of us. Mary Ellen Copeland is such a leader, and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to share her vision from Baltimore to Ghana. I use WRAP to help people heal from trauma and grasp new possibilities for themselves, their families, and their communities. I understand the need because I am them.
My story begins in 2009 when I was introduced to WRAP at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center where I was receiving treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and have been dealing with trauma for nearly 50 years. In 2010, I became a Certified Peer Specialist and, later that year, a WRAP Facilitator. But it wasn’t until I attended a WRAP conference in Philadelphia in 2011 that I had the chance to hear Mary Ellen speak.
In her gentle, authentic voice, Mary Ellen shared her mother’s story of trauma and healing. She spoke about hope, recovery, and wellness. She talked about the values and ethics of WRAP and about new possibilities. Mary Ellen was heartfelt and passionate, and I was eager to meet her in the lobby where she was signing copies of her book Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) for Addictions.
We met as mutual authors. I’m a contributor in a bestselling book called The Art and Science of Success: Proven Strategies from Today’s Leading Experts. My chapter, Chapter 19, is titled “Awakening the Transformational Leader Within.” In the 1980s, I had the privilege of studying with fellow contributor Ray Blanchard and, subsequently, of inviting Ray to help me with several projects in Malaysia where I was studying law at the International Islamic University. Together, in 1994, we conducted transformational leadership training for Sime Darby Plantations, the largest corporation in Kuala Lumpur, and worked with Malaysia’s prime minister to help him implement Malaysia’s “Vision 2020.” At the time, human services development in Malaysia was lagging far behind the country’s rapid economic growth.
With my background in human and organizational transformation and my experience of how WRAP was helping me deal with the trauma in my life, I approached Mary Ellen about taking WRAP to Ghana, my ancestral home. I met later with Mary Ellen; her husband, Ed; and Matthew Federici of the Copeland Center. They weren’t certain how I was going to spread WRAP to Ghana—even I wasn’t at that point—but they gave me their blessing!
I contacted Mustapha, a dear friend in Ghana who is illiterate and who understands the importance of having hope in his life. When I shared my experience of using WRAP, Mustapha developed a WRAP to help him accelerate his success as a fashion designer. WRAP in Ghana had gained a foothold—the first time it had been used on the African continent.
In 2012, I provided a three-day WRAP workshop at the Accra Technical Training Centre (ATTC), the leading technical training high school in Accra, Ghana. There, thirty students and two counselors developed a WRAP. The very next week, I presented a WRAP workshop at The ARK Foundation of Ghana, an international organization that provides shelter, job training, counseling, and referrals to survivors of domestic violence. The executive director and 15 staff prepared their WRAP.
I was allowed to film at both sites and, on October 10, 2013, United Nations Mental Health Day, I premiered two DVDs called WRAP Works in Ghana. I know that WRAP works because I had the opportunity to visit with the ATTC students who attended my first training. One young man told me his WRAP helps him know when things are breaking down in conversations with his brother, and he can make a choice to create a win-win outcome rather than react out of anger. A young woman told me that before creating her WRAP, she didn’t feel she could speak up for herself. Now she feels it’s okay to show her power.
And our progress didn’t stop there. In November 2013, I was invited to present a WRAP workshop at the Psychiatric Nurses Training College in Cape Coast, Ghana. Forty psychiatric nursing students prepared a WRAP, and the former president of the student government association has become one of WRAP’s biggest advocates as a psychiatric nurse.
Transforming the World
I remain a huge proponent of WRAP, as well. Mental health treatment in Ghana is stuck in the 16th century. Why shouldn’t everyone be given the chance to use a tool as progressive as WRAP, a tool that can help practitioners, families, and individuals enter the 21st century? WRAP is user-friendly, and it’s not just about addressing pain and suffering—it’s about fun and joy and happiness.
I’ve seen how WRAP can spread throughout the world. Two years ago, I was contacted by Jeneé Darden, host of Mental Health and Wellness Radio for PEERS. She asked if I knew anyone who could help a young man in Malawi who was out of work and feeling suicidal. Over the past two years, I have worked one-on-one with that young man, helping him understand that he is a valued human being and a miracle in progress. I introduced him to WRAP and invited him to change his conversations and, thereby, his actions. I have helped him invite the hero that resides within him to live in victory rather than retreat.
Today, I’m bringing WRAP home. I’ve been asked by the University of Maryland Community Engagement Center to provide an introduction to WRAP for people dealing with trauma, grief, and hopelessness. WRAP is a natural fit for this community, which has been plagued by violence and disempowerment. It’s an organic tool that offers hope for a healthier mind, body, and spirit, with unlimited possibilities. WRAP has become a bright light for humanity, and I’m privileged to share it at home and around the world.