Remembering Skyland Trail Founder, Charles West

Charles B. West, founder of Skyland Trail, passed away July 26, 2013, at the age of 92.

“Mr. West left an indelible mark on the Atlanta community through both his professional and philanthropic pursuits, and none was greater than the creation of Skyland Trail,” says Beth Finnerty, president and CEO. “His incredible vision and unwavering commitment to this important cause benefitted so many people over the years.  To all of them…and to me…he will always be a giant.”

West grew up on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta and worked for his father’s business, the West Lumber Company. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy and served in WWII. After the war, West grew the West Lumber Company into a chain of 68 stores across the southeastern U.S. 

In the early 1980s, West learned of a friend’s struggle to find an appropriate treatment program for a daughter with schizophrenia. The dominant treatment model at the time was hospitalization for acute cases, aimed at stabilization. After leaving the hospital, there were no residential programs that offered therapies and activities to help individuals with schizophrenia learn how to manage their illness, reintegrate back into the community, and lead successful lives.

West dedicated himself to creating a new kind of residential psychiatric treatment program in Atlanta. The group studied programs and innovations across the nation that looked beyond short-term stabilization to long-term recovery.  They founded the George West Mental Health Foundation, in honor of Charles West’s father, and opened the first facility on a road called Skyland Trail in 1989. This name quickly became the foundation’s identity.

Since 1989, Skyland Trail has served more than 2,000 clients and their families and has received national recognition for our innovative psychiatric treatment programs.

In addition to founding Skyland Trail, West also was instrumental is establishing the Southeastern Legal Foundation and The Shepherd Center and contributed significant works to The High Museum’s permanent collection.

The Skyland Trail community expresses our condolences to the West family and our gratitude to Charles West for his vision and compassion and a lifetime of dedicated service to individuals and families striving for recovery from mental illness.