A continuous review of the statewide mental health services delivery system interconnected with DMH strategic planning goals to assure a recovery-oriented, evidence-based, community-focused, value-dedicated and outcome-validated mental health service system that promotes resilience and facilitates recovery.

"As Associate Director of System Transformation, my charge must be to do far more than improve day-to-day operations or to enhance various efficiencies. The beauty of transformation is its ability to take us well beyond the 'best laid plans of mice and men'. It must be a dynamic process that eventually results in holistic and positive changes in systems and services, in administrators and our front line staff, in the well-being of consumers and their families, and finally, in communities on an ongoing basis. It makes us all both contributors to and beneficiaries of that goal. Accordingly, I'm excited about taking a lead role in shaping critical opportunities that honor our mission by ensuring that it's always responsive to a quickly changing world.

John Holton

Difference Makers - John Holton: Transforming Systems to Transform Lives.

In our too busy too hectic lives, we routinely pass by those who are so unassuming as to be almost invisible. Nonetheless, some of them are "walking universes" of practical wisdom, professional competence and extraordinary goodwill. He would quickly and firmly deny it, but one of those universes is Transformation Systems Director John Holton. He comes to DMH at the right time.

As the state's mental health authority, the Division has exceptionally challenging objectives. Among them: to demonstrate that mental health is vital to our general well-being and that recovery is the norm despite the prevailing view that mental illness is a life-long affliction. Ultimately, transformation involves strengthening those objectives by restructuring programs and services to further enhance the capacity of consumers and their families to play an active role in their resilience and recovery goals. Meeting that aim through systems transformation demands professionals with a broad view but nonetheless an eye for detail. No less essential, it calls for an expert who is at home with the strategic planning of complex systems yet acutely sensitive to the individuals who are subject to them. Such is John Holton.

The Terrible Two's, Sweet Sixteen and Social Security

Although Holton's academic and career background makes him an outstanding transformation architect, it is his personal grounding and breadth that make him a real find. His training in human development only confirms his conviction that, "so long as we draw air, we not only have the opportunity but the responsibility for promoting individual development." He observes that, depending on our personal circumstances, we may either feel an obligation to conform to or be relieved that the Terrible Two's, Sweet Sixteen, Social Security and other well-established benchmarks serve as reliable markers of appropriate attitudes and behavior. But John does not rest on benchmarks. Instead he advises that our dependence on them as indicators of cultural expectations should not be determinative of our individual development. "Because we are individually driven but collectively enhanced, we are capable of exceeding both our societal and environmental boundaries to become extraordinary human beings."

Holton emphasizes that it is the undue reliance on socially accepted markers that also shapes the general expectations about those who are coping with mental disorders. Combined with traditional notions, including the presumed ties between mental illness, violent behavior and mental retardation, the typical belief is that a person with a mental illness is a not only a threat but "once stricken has no recourse" damning him or her to a life of unacceptable and dangerous behavior. As a result, recovery is not just seen as an impractical goal but an impossible one. John points out that the consequences of relying on the "mental illness benchmark" are devastating to everyone, whatever their mental health. "At the very least, it supports a subtle but real de facto social segregation by empowering the notion that even though the persons with mental illness may be among us they are not of us. Mental illness does not typecast; it knows no boundaries of gender, age, ethnicity, religious preference or sexual orientation."

With that realization in mind, it quickly becomes apparent that to effectively advance the Division's vision, John must account not only for those needing assistance, but also the strongly held negative feelings maintained by persons when they come face to face with what they perceive to be a wholly unwelcome behavioral trait in a family member, nearby neighbor or close colleague. His previous work as an executive officer and chief researcher of Prevent Child Abuse America gives him an insider's eye. He confirms that the vast majority of child abuse cases occur among perpetrators and victims already known to each other. Under those circumstances, the underlying challenge is creating systematic opportunities for individual treatment that also foster long-term positive relationships.

Cooking with Commitment

John's professional achievements reflect more than his specialized skills. His contributions are fueled by a personal commitment to helping others be all they can be by stepping over their "designated benchmarks". Even those heroes he would choose to have as his dinner guests serve as examples of the lifelong value he places on that commitment. He reminds us that abolitionist Fredrick Douglass, songstress Diana Washington and master chef Marcus Samuelsson all fearlessly soared to new horizons in human understanding, expression and creativity. Each dared to risk. By making their marks, each has given us a bigger, richer world. It is highly likely that John would honor their presence at his table by donning his chef's cap and apron to conjure up a feast by his own hand. However, he acknowledges that before picking up a knife and fork, his guests would do well to skip grace and instead utter a fervent prayer for a culinary miracle.

John and his lovely wife Mirna Garcia are the proud parents of sixteen month old Alianna Socorro Priscilla, AKA "Coco", who by the way, expects to be joined by another new sibling in the relatively near future. Although John and Mirna are quite willing to accept the possibility that she may grow up to be equally unassuming, both confirm that the newest addition to the Holton family is already a bright and dazzling universe in her own right.