Starr Cunningham

President and CEO, Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia

Bachelor of Journalism (Hons.), 1990

This is going to sound corny, but it was almost like the stars aligned for this to happen.

Not much rattles Starr Cunningham. She had made a career in front of the cameras of ATV and CTV as a reporter and then a host. She’d seen just about everything that could go wrong, go wrong. She was a pro at live TV, rolling with the punches. So why then was she feeling so nervous and even vulnerable when she stood up to deliver the keynote speech at a fundraising gala for the Special Olympics? She had, she explains, emceed this event for sixteen years. But this time it was different. She wouldn’t be introducing anyone. She’d be talking about herself.

“I wasn’t sure anyone wanted to hear my story,” Starr says. She was wrong. Starr told her story of growing up with her sister Stacey, a Special Olympics athlete. She talked about their life and about how that organization had helped Stacey. When she was finished she says: “People came forward and volunteered for the organization.”

It was a pivotal moment.

“I realized that my story could motivate someone to get involved. And if people could relate to my story then I had a responsibility to share it. So that was the moment that I decided I would leave CTV.”

Starr had joined the CTV affiliate ATV right after King’s. In fact, she had interned at ATV for a month just before she graduated with her journalism degree.

“I treated it like a month long job interview,” she says. At first it was a summer job, then evenings and weekends and finally a fulltime job. Twenty-three years later it was time to move on.

But during that time Starr had picked up information and skills that would serve her well in Career 2.0. She learned how to communicate effectively with the public and she had learned a fair bit about mental health through many stories and interviews on the topic. So when the job as President & CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia opened up, Starr applied.

“This is going to sound corny, but it was almost like the stars aligned for this to happen. It was tailor made for me.”

She went for the interview before the Board of Trustees, a daunting process she had never had to endure before.

“It was kind of like I was doing my Foundation Year oral exams again,” she laughs. She nailed it.

Starr has been able to use her celebrity from so many years on TV to open doors for the Mental Health Foundation. And, no surprise, has “brought a lot of media attention” to it. But she also brings an intensely personal commitment to the job.

“Our tag line here is ‘Changing the way people think’. And every day and in everything I do I ask, how is this going to change the way people think. We need to change the way people think about mental illness, about the stigma,” Starr says. “We have to let people know they are not alone.”

Photo Credit: Scott Munn.

Posted: Oct. 2016

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