Ambassador of Hope Award Winners 2017

This will be the first year we have given the Ambassador of Hope award and the honorees will be presented at our annual youth concert, Trees of Hope on Saturday, April 29, 2017 from 6-9pm at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Tickets are $35 each.

What does the Ambassador of Hope Award mean?

We look for those in the community that are taking bold and innovative steps toward erasing the stigma of mental illness (including addiction). It’s a cause that for too long has been swept under the rug and these winners have gone above and beyond in their support of mental health initiatives.


Leigh Dunavant

Leigh Dunavant is one of our 2017 Ambassador of Hope Award winners

Leigh was assistant principal from 2010-2012, associate principal from 2012-2016 and this is her first year as principal at Godwin High School in Henrico County Virginia. After experiencing tragic incidents stemming from mental illness in the school environment, Dunavant has taken a proactive approach to dealing with the issue.

Instead of defaulting to traditional punishment tactics, she has recognized the underlying cause of struggle, underachievement and behavior problems at school and inspired a student-led group called “No Eagle Left Behind” that focuses on mental health awareness and acceptance.

She recently supported a student-led effort to hold a Cameron Gallagher Foundation “Minding Your Mind” Assembly for all students at Godwin High from that featured a young speaker who suffered from mental illness. She included Beacon Tree and the #umatterchallenge in that assembly and opened up the topic of mental illness to the student body showing acceptance and starting the conversation following a week of awareness events focused on mental illness, addiction, bullying and suicide prevention.

In addition, Dunavant is leading THP Project Purple, an initiative of The Herren Project, a non-profit foundation established by former NBA basketball player, Chris Herren that assists individuals and families struggling with addiction. She is also part of a community advisory board that was started last year in order to work together to combat substance use, abuse, and addiction at Godwin and she serves on the Heroin Task Force for Henrico County and the Henrico County Public Schools Prevention Advisory Council.

We want other educators to copy Leigh’s example. Many of the problems we are seeing in schools are the result of unaddressed problems of mental illness. Leigh gets it.


Alex Chaffee

Alex Chaffee is our 2017 Jr. Ambassador of Hope Award winner

Alex Chaffee is a graduating senior from Cosby High School was born in California and moved to Georgia at the age of 6 and then to Virginia when she was 12. Chaffee has been part of the YMCA Leader’s Club for the past 3 years and is a passionate volunteer for Beacon Tree Foundation. She has embraced the topic of mental health and suicide prevention, often going it alone and forging ahead even when she finds resistance as there often is with this topic.

She rallied for Cosby Health Science Club to have our President come in and tell the story of her son who died by suicide to 70 students and drag the topic mental health and suicide out of the dark. She jumped through all the administrative hoops to make it happen and then spearheaded a video that got the attention of several area news outlets, parents, counselors, students and teachers that featured the pilot of the #umatterchallenge, a social media program aimed at wiping out stigma and cultivating a kinder culture of caring. She was recently featured on 8 News with the award-winning anchor Amy Lacey as a result.

“I like helping people, it is my purpose,” says Chaffee. Alex has appealed to administrators and other adult leaders to ask that the topic be addressed, boldly telling her own story and setting the stage for future generations and her peers, giving them permission to reach out to each other and to ask a trusted adult for help.

She loves her cat, horseback riding and is a hair stylist at Legends Hair Salon in Midlothian. After she graduates from Cosby High School this summer, she will attend John Tyler Community College for two years then carry on to VCU to study mental health with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist.