Bernice “Bunny” Skirboll founded Compeer nearly 40 years ago following a near-fatal automobile accident.
“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 in to the complex field of mental health.”
Skirboll served as executive director since Compeer’s inception. Under her leadership, Compeer grew from a small program to an internationally recognized mental health agency.
She holds a master’s degree from the University of Rochester and has received numerous professional awards. Bernice wrote a book about Compeer, "Compeer: Recovery Through the Healing Power of Friends," which the University of Rochester Press published in 2006.