Motivated by their son Brandon’s onset of schizophrenia 27 years ago, Napa Valley vintners Garen and Shari Staglin made a decision, as they put it, “to run toward the problem.” That “run” has resulted in advocacy, national leadership and more than $280 million in fundraising for scientific research in brain health.
The Staglins’ annual scientific symposium and celebration, the 23rd Music Festival for Brain Health featuring Lyle Lovett, will be held Saturday, Sept. 16 at the family vineyard in Rutherford.
At their home last week, the Staglins talked about their choice of the words “brain health” as the focus of their philanthropic work. ”There’s so much stigma and discrimination around the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness,’” Shari Staglin said. “There’s a lack of understanding considering character issues, rather than genetics and chemical issues.
“Whether it’s autism, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s, psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, there’s a lot of overlap genetically. So it’s all about the brain and changes in the brain and the chemistry of the brain. So we decided to call it what it really is, ‘brain health.’”
Organizationally, the Staglins created two nonprofit entities with two different fundraising and grant-making missions. The One Mind Institute supports individual cutting-edge researchers, whom they call their “rising star scientists,” while One Mind funds large collaborative, multi-centered “open science” projects.
The similar naming of their nonprofits has been confusing. Going forward, the identity of the work will be consolidated. “It’ll all be called One Mind,” Garen Staglin said, “organizationally, website-wise, linguistically, you’ll hear us just talk about One Mind. One Mind doing this range of activities, from individual scientist to large-scale projects.”
“There’s a desperate need to fund these rising star scientists,” he said. “They are doing very risky projects, projects determined by the National Institutes of Health to be too risky for them to support, so we are the ones who fund them. And then when they are successful, we get follow-on grants for them that propel them to greater success.”
“We continue doing the large-scale, open science, multi-centered projects in traumatic brain injury,” he added, “and we’re going to start one in post-traumatic stress and in psychosis also. These give us a way to bring the scientific community along with us with a goal which is all about ‘let’s go faster, let’s go together, let’s break down the silos so that you guys share information and data.’”
Shari Staglin highlighted their support for efforts in prevention. “We started these ideas on preventing psychosis,” she said, “identifying youth at risk. The initial work was done at UCLA and it’s gotten tremendous support throughout the state.
“The Napa County Board of Supervisors is supporting a state bill (Assembly Bill 1315) establishing early identification of youth at risk, to catch them early and intervene, so that they don’t have to go over the edge and have a psychotic break, ever. They can learn to live with it. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is in the Senate now.”
The donations supporting the Staglins’ efforts have increased, year after year. “I think it’s a reflection of the growing willingness of people to deal with these illnesses,” Garen Staglin said; “the recognition that no one’s done anything wrong, that there shouldn’t be any shame if you have it in your family. And the growing awareness that we can actually do something about it.
“The quality of the science that’s been a result of our continued encouragement and funding is actually producing things that are giving people hope that in their lifetimes we can dramatically improve the quality of life with these illnesses.”
“We used to get online donations of $5,000 a year, $10.000 a year,” he added. “They’re now a hundred thousand a year. We’re getting lots of $50 and $100 gifts from people from all over the country. And we’re tracking with very wealthy people now, supporting some of these large-scale projects. I think we’re going to be getting some $5 million gifts from individuals, which we’ve never had before.”
Shari Staglin pointed out that the profits from their Salus wines go to support brain health. “It says that on the label,” she said. “Salus is the Roman goddess of health. We have a chardonnay and a cabernet, our second blends from this vineyard, and 100 percent of our profit from those wines goes to brain health.”
From the start, the Staglins have combined musical performances with their scientific events. In the early years, they brought in symphony orchestras. More recently, they have featured popular artists such as Tim McGraw, Vintage Trouble, Melissa Etheridge and Michael Franti.
This year’s musical headliner is four-time Grammy-winning alt-country star Lyle Lovett, who will perform with his Acoustic Group.
“We want this to be a day of joy and enlightenment and hope,” Garen Staglin said. “It all fits within this circle of hope. The science that people learn about causes them to be more open, the music makes them happy, and they talk to us about illnesses that they never told anybody else they had.”
“People go away feeling like they can turn tragedy into triumph,” Shari Staglin added. “It’s doable.”