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Sharing Your Light

Bernice (Bunny) Skirboll

Bunny Skirboll

During her long rehabilitation from a near-fatal automobile accident in 1975, Rochester native Bernice “Bunny” Skirboll discovered the healing power of friendship and vowed to make a difference in others’ lives.

She got involved in the Mental Health Association’s Adopt-A-Patient Program and soon transformed it into the community-based Compeer model, serving as Executive Director from its inception through 2006.

“I was in the hospital for two months and you have a lot of time to think and pray,” Skirboll said. “When you’re young and in your 20s, you take your life for granted. I said if I survived, I’d do something worthwhile with my life. I’d make a difference.”

Her long rehabilitation helped her realize the power of friendship, and she vowed to make a difference in other people’s lives. “There weren’t adequate support systems in the community where these people were put after being in a state hospital,” Skirboll said. “Sometimes, they were put somewhere without any family or friends. How do we help them readjust to the community? That’s where I came up with this idea. It helps you with living skills and social skills. It does things your friends and families would do. I took the simple idea of friendship and brought it into the complex field of mental health.”

Under Skirboll’s leadership, Compeer grew from a small program in Rochester to an internationally recognized mental wellness model and organization — one that has demonstrated solid results and been replicated around the globe.

Today, the Compeer Rochester team carries forward its founder’s vision and mission to provide healing friendship to community members living with mental health challenges — and to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. The Compeer model has been replicated throughout the U.S. and Australia, with additional affiliates in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Compeer delivers and supports model programs that inspire and engage communities through the power of volunteer friends and mentors of Compeer affiliate programs to improve the quality of life for adults, children, and families who strive for good mental health.

Bunny holds a Master’s degree from the University of Rochester and has received numerous professional awards. Bunny wrote a book about Compeer, “Compeer: Recovery Through the Healing Power of Friends,” which the University of Rochester Press published in 2006.