Journey’s Dream

Mark Hattas

   Mark Hattas, Founder

Mark Hattas tells his story and the story of the founding of the nonprofit, Journey’s Dream.

Hugh: Welcome to this edition of The Nonprofit Exchange. We always have special people, but these people are really special because they invited me to participate in the foundational strategy building for their vision for bringing amazing resources to others. I want to introduce these two people. Russell, say hello from Denver, Colorado.

Russell: It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood and a beautiful day to be here with Mark and Mitzi. I look forward to a wonderful chat today. They are doing great work here.

Hugh: Russell and I co-host this, and we have some fascinating conversations with people that are doing amazing things. This particular chain of interviews is about people who are doing real things in the real world. The ones we have done previously have been organizations that have been in existence for a while. This one is a young organization, but they are really making some traction. They are doing some really good stuff. I wanted to interview them about how they got started and what kind of traction they are making and what their plans are and how they impact lives.

Mark, let’s start with Mark Hattas. You tell us a little bit about your journey, who you are, and why you’re doing this. Then throw it to Mitzi and let her introduce herself and her role in this. Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange, Mark.

Mark: Thank you so much. Great to be her with both of you, good friends, and Mitzi. *audio cut* My revenue stream, or one of them, one of the things that I had the pleasure of doing early in my career is I built and sold a tech company. About nine months after that, I had a very unique experience where I started experiencing the world much differently than I had previously. I went into what is commonly called mania. I was diagnosed bipolar I, and I was in and out of the hospital three times over a three-year period. I was told right away that I would not get well, and I would be on medication the rest of my life. Most of what we know about the brain we learned in the 1990s, and the world of psychology was still navigating what was really going on. The hospital with that kind of prognosis. It was inspired maybe two months after that, after I had an unusual experience where I was terrified that I was going to have to live my life with my brain in the mode that it was in. So I started to seek solutions, and thank God there were solutions out there. There are amazing practitioners, amazing resources, and I applied them, I practiced them, and I got well. For over three years, I have been off all medication and have been very healthy.

Over that course of a period of time, I met Mitzi and her husband Rex and her daughter Brea and learned about what was happening in their lives. We joined together to start what’s called Hattas Shay International Foundation, which its project is called Journey’s Dream, to help those with mental health challenges find resources and get to a place where they could really believe again that they could get well and then have the strength and the tools to start to go out and navigate their health and well-being with the best support mechanisms that can serve them. We are a hub that creates that environment. We are still building, but we have had some great traction so far. Mitzi?

Mitzi: My name is Mitzi Montague-Bauer. My son Journey is symptomatic in his senior year at University of Michigan. At first, we thought it was his quirky behavior or something. We didn’t really understand the magnitude of what was happening until he graduated and came home. There were several diagnoses as they didn’t present the same way each time. The first doctor thought he had schizophrenia. After that, he was diagnosed with bipolar and depression and manic disorder and a lot of them actually. He was told the same thing that Mark was told: that he would never get well. There was no cure. The best we could hope for was to manage the symptoms and that would be a lifetime of medication.

I didn’t want to believe that. I didn’t believe it. It seemed that the more he heard it, the more he began to believe it. During that time, I spent countless hours looking for the solution that we now know is available, but they were difficult to find. I spent a lot of time searching for any solution that had a different prognosis. By the time I felt confident with the solutions and the collection of modalities that I had collected, Journey was no longer interested. In the beginning, he was open to help. By the time I felt like I had the answers, he had isolated himself, and didn’t seem to trust anyone. It became apparent to me that if we had had these solutions in the beginning, perhaps there would have been a different outcome. Journey, after three and a half years of struggling with his mental health and being told he would not get well, he stepped off of a building and ended his life. Because of the lack of- Well, the solutions were there, but they were difficult to find, and there wasn’t really one place to find them.

The vision that we share is that there would be a place, if a family member or a loved one or someone who is struggling landed on our site, that they would have a whole collection of solutions, possibilities to meet them where they were. Those solutions could be medication. There is a place for medication. A whole slew of other opportunities.

Hugh: Thank you for sharing that. That is an important message. Mark, to declare that SynerVision has been working with this project from the onset. We started putting together the pieces in Mitzi’s basement with Mitzi, her husband, her daughter, you, and me. We worked really hard for a couple of days getting our heads around what this looks like. That was not really the starting point, but it was the launchpoint where you were able to then say we are doing this for real and we are moving ahead. Why did you decide to put this in the framework of a tax-exempt charity?

Mark: I’d built the for-profit organization. When I started to learn about the power of the tax-exempt organizations, it allows for people to give to a cause that they believe in and the way that they can and have tax benefits. It gives an opportunity to donate funds, provide in-kind services—for example, there is an organization helping us with our technology for the practitioner network. They are donating all the framework and developing even. That would have cost us quite a lot of money otherwise. Because it is for the greater good of the broader population, we didn’t really see a need for any one of us or any group to own it. We wanted it to be available for all, and we are the stewards of it. So we really looked from the beginning at this organization being something that is a gift to all of those people who were in a situation like Journey’s situation, or my situation, and the many that exist out there. Tax-exempt has made a whole lot of sense.

When we spoke with Sherita Herring, she helped us set that up and reeducated me, retooled my brain, along with you, on what the power of tax-exempt is and how much funding is actually out there and available, and support. We took advantage of your expertise and knowledge to set this up right from the beginning.  

Hugh: There is a lot of power in philanthropic giving, both in individual donors. We were on a call with Sherita last night. She is one of our partners in SynerVision. Actually, she helped me create my foundation years ago. She is a queen of nonprofit information. She knows the right stuff. We have been on a journey equipping the culture to then step up to where you need to be.

I have been impressed with how systematic you have been. You have tried not to short-cycle everything. You have taken things in stride, in sequence, and really let the different stages of this play out and mature without cutting it short. I commend you for that. So many people starting organizations like this want to get there and want to get it done. They leave a lot of stuff in the garbage on the side of the road on the way. You have been very systematic in developing this. I commend you for that. Russell, I know a little more about this because I have been involved with him for a year and a half. We decided we worked together for 365 non-continuous days. It’s been a pace that’s been very logical.

Mark, you’ve created some programs, and you have done some beta tests on the programs. Talk a little bit about who those programs are for and the impact that program has had and will have on people’s lives.

Mark: The intent long-term is to have a whole hub of many programs. We have a few through affiliate partners, but we also- One of the things that we co-created with Rookha Group is a program called the Optimal Being program. The Optimal Being program is absolutely by far the core of what I did to navigate the brain dynamics that were spinning around in me and get to a place where I could start to navigate the world in a more healthy way.

There are three things that occur in the Optimal Beam program. One is the awakening of the inner guidance system. It’s really incredible that every human being innately has an inner guidance system, but so many people have conflicts within it and their programming that has them doing things on automatic decision-making that is not really constructive for their lives. What this does is help to soften that, release those beliefs and ideas that aren’t really serving us anymore, and get to a place where the inner guidance system is listened to and it comes alive in us and it really leaves us to what’s optimal for us. Mitzi mentioned sometimes medication is the optimal thing for someone in the beginning stages, so go for it and do it. Listen to those doctors. Believe the diagnosis they give you, but don’t believe the prognosis if they are not telling you you can get well. Allowing for that inner guidance system to come on gives people confidence. It gives them courage. It’s a healthy courage. It realigns their personal code of decision-making from one that could be negative and destructive to one that is always constructive. That is a key thing with the Optimal Being program.

Another thing that happens there is community. Here is people that come together who are also going through life’s challenges. To learn these tools together and to come to a community where people are in a like situation or like-minded, they are seeking solutions, that accelerates everyone’s health and wellbeing. Ideas are shared in there that the facilitators may have never thought of. One of the people who are participating is contributing as well. People are both giving to the group and receiving from the group. It’s a combination of self-instructional programs as well as a weekly online part of the program.

The other thing is there is metrics. At the beginning of the Optimal Being program, we allow someone to go into ten categories of their human behavior. These are things that are like self-love. How is that going for someone? If love of self is really low, maintaining love while thinking about themselves is really low. There are some tools that we teach to support increasing that. Maintaining love while thinking of others, maintaining love while actually approaching truth. There is ten of these categories. We measure them in the beginning, and at the end of the 13-week program online, we measure it again.

It is fascinating to see how dramatically people change. These are core human development skills that could be taught to a fifth grader or even younger. When someone integrates them into their life, whenever they face something that is a challenge, instead of going to historical patterns of coping mechanisms, they start to have tools that are foundational human tools to start to realize what potential lies within them and have it start to come out in the world. The transformations we have seen in corporate leaders, people who thought they were actually doing fine but wanted to get to the next level, and people who have challenges is profound.

Hugh: It’s not just for people who are having—I forget how to title it—severe emotional issues. It’s not just for people in that profile.

Mark: No, it could be someone who is going through a breakup from a relationship and they are sad. It could be a loss of a loved one, and they are going through that grieving process. It could be any number of things that creates in someone the desire to seek something where they are going to feel better. When people feel better and they get to a joyous, and Mitzi knows well about this, place in life, one of the things that starts to occur is their life self-perpetuates in a positive direction. We want to help people navigate through that, so we teach the opposite of the way they were taught in the world when they were growing up. It’s like a rewiring of some of the processes they had been using. Mitzi, I don’t know if you want to ask anything to that part.

Mitzi: I thought you did a beautiful job summarizing.

Hugh: Mark, what is the name of that program? The Optimal Bean program?

Mark: It’s called the Optimal Being Program.

Hugh: It’s my age and mental condition. 

Mark: We have tools and technologies. There is an app online that is actually free. People can go download- If they do a search on their phone on “Rookha Group,” they will find the Optimal Being app. It is a powerful app that helps to heal relationships with the commitments tool and to practice maintaining love and the breathing properly as they face a challenging situation. That alone is healing.

Hugh: Spell Rookha.

Mark: R-o-o-k-h-a.

Hugh: R-o-o-k-h-a.

Mark: You might be able to type in Optimal Being and get it at this point, too. It’s been up there long enough I think you could type in either one.

Hugh: Optimal Being. O-p-t-i-m-a-l B-e-i-n-g. So Mark, this is not coaching. It’s not counseling. It’s not therapy. What is it?

Mark: We’re like a group of people who have been there and have navigated this. We are educated mentors. I am someone who has gone into it and out of it. When someone does that, they develop a certain set of skills and support others in getting to a place of hope. I don’t think anybody in our organization—Mitzi, correct me if I’m wrong—but I think every single person in our organization sees the human beingness in a person. Never have we seen any kind of diagnosis or some kind of illness. It’s not the way we look at it. We look at it more like-

There is a great analogy of the caterpillar to butterfly. Imagine that the caterpillar goes in to the chrysalis, and then everyone starts to say how awful they are because they don’t look like a caterpillar anymore and they are stupid and can’t do this and can’t do that. The caterpillar is transforming. If we suppress that transformation, we are going to have some funky-looking caterpillars. If they didn’t allow the chrysalis process, they are going to be angry, frustrated, grumpy, and eventually fall into depression because they are denying that natural, innate, transformative state. When somebody actually goes into who it is they truly are and they do it with the tools that exist in many different forms, we happen to give them in the way that we learned them. It supports someone having the courage to do what they are innately guided to do. That is why when I was mentioning inner guidance systems it’s like listening to yourself, but letting go of all the noise that was in the way, creating conflict within a person.

Hugh: I love it. Mitzi, I have appreciated you on our team calls and live work together. You ask really good questions when everybody else is letting it fly by and wondering what that meant. You say, “Wait a minute.” Your attention to detail is very acute. But you always ask it in a very generous and kind way. Instead of putting anybody down, you say, “Would you explain that again? Is it this or that?”

First off, talk about your son. This project is named Journey’s Dream. Why did you step up to want to be in this core team of four people? I guess it’s four people. This core team of champions that are really making it happen. Talk about yourself, and then talk about the other two that aren’t here, Rex and Brea.

Mitzi: That inner guidance system that Mark was just talking about was what led me to be one of the founders. I again saw a deficit when I looked at the mental health situation on the planet. The suicide attempts and the actual suicides and the message that people hear when they get a diagnosis is one that we wonder why is a stigma. When you get that diagnosis, if you get a diagnosis of schizophrenia and went home and Googled that, that would put you right in the depression, I think. You probably wouldn’t want to talk about it. The prognosis is awful. I would love to see the core messaging changing around mental illness. What would have happened with Journey if he was told that he was in a transformational process or that he could get well? That is a different message. A lot of people who are experiencing these states of mania are brilliant. They are on a genius spectrum. They are navigating different things than we are. I think if they had these tools that are available, it would be a different outcome entirely. I was motivated by that, and this is what I was being guided by, too.

The other two founders are Rex Montague-Bauer, my husband and Journey’s father. Rex and I have been students of these principles that are a lot of the core principles of the Optimal Being. We have been students for a while of that and do our best to practice those in our lives. Our daughter Brea is the fourth founder, Journey’s sister. She is a brilliant human being, compassionate. We are all inspired by the same thing: to see a different outcome for people who receive a mental health diagnosis or who are just challenged in general.

Hugh: This is a high-functioning team. You all work really well together. That is not the case for every team. Russell, I met Mark at the very first ever SynerVision Leadership Empowerment Symposium. I think it was called Leadership Excellence then. It was in Chicago. Mark met me at a CEO Space gathering the week or two before, and he decided he’d sign up and come. We got connected there. We had conversations. He checked me out for about a year before he- He wanted to make sure I wasn’t a flake and was there to stay. Then we started working together. We have had some very deep conversations over time.

I am really a fan of Mark and Mitzi and the team as well as what they are doing. So we have been on a journey ourselves. Mark, thank you for inviting me on the journey. It has been a pleasure to be there with you. It has touched me in many ways I hadn’t realized I could be touched. It has been an important journey for me just to watch and participate. Russell, what do you see and hear that you want to comment on? I’m sure you have found a couple questions you’d like to throw back at our guests.

Russell: I’d like to thank you both for coming here and sharing your story. We have powerful why’s, and that is critical to everything. The idea of paying it forward. What we are talking about is raising our level of consciousness. This is something that everybody can do. There is a lot of power in interacting with people who get it. There is a lot of fear and stigma around the idea of a mental diagnosis, but a diagnosis does not define you. Just looking at the alternative complementary types of solutions is critical because it’s not all about poppin’ a pill. It’s about a mental and emotional and spiritual connection and going within and finding that thing that is inside you that can make all things better. To be fair, I think Hugh scared you off with- Mark is probably in earshot when you let loose one of the age and mental condition things. He does that every once in a while, but he is a brilliant man. I know that you had a long journey to figuring out that the idea of raising your consciousness and being around other people who experience the same thing, how did you come to the conclusion that this was the actual solution? Tell me about how that journey took place.

Mark: First, I don’t know that it would be fair to say that it was the actual solution meaning if you are referring- Are you referring to my own health or the creation of Journey’s Dream?

Russell: The creation of Journey’s Dream as a way to move forward is really- That is my term for raising your level of consciousness, connecting with that is strong and valuable.

Mark: I apologize. I misunderstood the question at first. With regard to- How did we discover that Journey’s Dream was the solution? It goes back to trusting that inner guidance system and listening. One of the things that we discovered along the way is we want to be very collaborative with other organizations. We want to be inclusive. We believe that there is a place for medication, and there are many organizations who have gone through mental health recovery processes who are against the medication. If I didn’t have the medication, I’m not sure I’d still be here. It served me well while it served me. It was more that there was more, and it stopped serving me at some point in a way that I felt like I could really achieve my heart’s desire.

We wanted to give people access to programs like the Optimal Being program, where they could tap in and tune in and get to that higher consciousness that is going to optimally serve them and give them other tools that could meet them where they are today. They may not be seeking that today; they might just be feeling really miserable and not want to get out of bed. They would like to wake up one day and feel a little better. They are not seeking some lofty thing, but to them, that is very lofty. To get back in touch with who is it that they really are and what is it they are really here to do?

We had a belief that if we as a group take care of the stuff that was in our system that was not going to serve Journey’s Dream, that we would always know the optimal next step and the optimal step we were in would have the proper attention and focus to be executed optimally. We just did an event in November at Soldier Field. Our first event ever was at Soldier Field in the Midway Room there. There were a couple hundred people there. More than that, it was the BDSA, the Bipolar Depression Support Alliance was there supporting this. Nami Metro were bringing in- They do stuff with the arts. I am not a big art kind of person, but to see what they are doing to give people who are struggling with mental health the opportunity to sing and play music and explore what it is that is going on inside them in a different way, that is extraordinary. There was a faith-based counseling organization that came and supported called Sumeric Care. I am not going to remember them all right now, but they all came together and collaborated to realize a vision. There is a VA organization in Illinois, Joining Forces, and the Illinois Department of Human Services was even there. That is unheard of in my world before that to see these groups come together and say, “You know what? We are going to stand for something, which is we believe that there is a path for all people to get well.” We may not know it today. There might not be a cookbook recipe that is on the shelf. But when we start to bring resources together and collaborate, that is when solutions can be found. That is when the optimal support can come out.

We had a half dozen practitioners that committed to come. They spoke and changed people’s lives, just by letting people know that these doctors who see patients every day were telling them something different than what they had heard in the hospital, which is you can get well. Just to hear that from another doctor, all of a sudden, all the belief systems around what their condition is collapsed. They had to walk out of there with a remodeled and reconfigured belief system. If they say I can get well, then I can. That is a huge thing.

Then we had a few celebrities there who were extraordinary, too. David Stanley, who is Elvis Presley’s brother, was there sharing his story and the story of Elvis and the opioids and that process and giving people hope that they can get to the other side of that, and his own depression and stuff he has been going through. The founder of Make-a-Wish Foundation talking about how he had PTSD early on in his career, and his partner who had taken his life. Because Frank Shankwitz dealt with it in a different way and found a solution for him, Make-a-Wish Foundation exists today, one of the most successful not-for-profits. That was another reason we wanted him there, to let people know that there is hope for people struggling, but also we wanted him to express that Journey’s Dream might be at the beginning just like Make-a-Wish was after he was going through his recovery process and had the opportunity to do something pretty cool.

These not-for-profit organizations can be run like real companies and provide real services, real value, create income streams that produce impact that is huge. Make-a-Wish is doing a few hundred million a year in their overall umbrella. That is the kind of organization we see building. A global organization that can have that impact. That is why we hired Hugh. If we are going to build a sustainable, real organization, we waned someone who has been there and done that. Hugh Ballou helps not-for-profits all over the planet to do and set up for success. If you have something that you really believe in and you have a passion behind it, trust yourself and hire the resources that are truly going to help you in your situation set up for success.

Hugh: Thank you for that. I certainly have had enough rehearsal doing this. Mark and Mitzi, tell people where they can go to find out more information.

Mitzi: You can go to our website, which is That would be the place to begin.

Hugh: What will people find there?

Mitzi: They will find our website, which we are going through the process of making some changes to now as we have grown in the four months since we first launched the website. They will find a beginning of a practitioner’s network. They will find the Optimal Being and other resources we are offering. There will also be a place for practitioners where we are inviting practitioners to join us if they see fit. There is a place for practitioners, and there is a place for family members or people who are struggling looking for solutions. They will see what solutions we have, and they will see the vision for what we have for our future.

Hugh: Did you think when we were in your basement putting stickies on the boards that this would go here in this period of time?

Mitzi: No, sir, I did not.

Mark: One more thing. From a context standpoint, we have grown within a handful of weeks to over 600 followers on Facebook. If you go to the Journey’s Dream page on Facebook and follow us, you will not only be getting things about Journey’s Dream, but things about mental health and innovative approaches and solutions over time. Encourage people to do that as well.

Hugh: What’s next, Mark? What’s next in your radar of accomplishments for 2018?

Mark: In a week, December 4th, we are launching another Optimal Being program. Anyone who is interested in that, it’s a 13-week program. You can go to the website under Educational Programs and click on Optimal Being. You can read more about it and sign up and register if you like. That’s one thing.

2018 is going to be a year of automating that program so we can get it to a lower cost; forming additional partners and building out the practitioner network; and building a fund so that people who can’t get the kinds of care that insurance doesn’t cover that they can get some additional support in paying for those services. Some of those services that I have had the benefit of don’t take insurance, so we want to educate people about those but also be good stewards of funds that come in so that part of those funds get allocated to address one of the biggest issues in mental health, which is it’s really expensive to get the good care that is going to help someone navigate their own life to a healthy state of being.

Hugh: Awesome. There is resources now, and there is resources that are coming. The Facebook page is also called Journey’s Dream?

Mark: Yes.

Hugh: Russell, what are you thinking?

Russell: I am thinking I love what you’re doing. It’s wonderful. I’d like to say that I have looked at the website. There is something there for everyone who has been touched in some way with a diagnosis of a mental illness. Having to face that fear, there is a lot of fear, a lot of stigma around that. But it’s important to connect with people who get it. Mark and Mitzi get it. If it’s you, if it’s a loved one, go to and get connected. Talk with somebody. Happy Giving Tuesday by the way. It is Giving Tuesday. Take a few minutes after this broadcast and go to that site and plug in. If you do nothing else, subscribe to the email list, get the information, and give it a listen because a lot of the things that can be seen as solutions here are not the conventional things. They are not the things people tell you, things like mindfulness. Some of this stuff might seem like it’s touchy-feely, but it saves lives. Take a minute to consider something a little bit different than what you have been taught because your life’s on the line. These are folks who have been there and they get it. It’s facing that fear and knowing that yeah, there are some other solutions but they are only solutions if you take time to plug in and do it. Go to Facebook. Go to the web. Get plugged in. Make a donation. Sign up. This is a gift to give yourself and maybe a loved one for Giving Tuesday.

That is my two cents. Again, thank you so much Mark and Mitzi for what you’re doing here because you’re saving lives. This is going to grow beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.

Mark: Thank you, Russell. Thank you, Hugh.

Mitzi: Thank you.

Hugh: That is really good. I’d like to ask you to think about a closing thought. I’ll ask Mitzi to go first, then Mark.

As we wrap up here in this really good story that you guys have shared, Mitzi, what is your closing thought for our listeners?

Mitzi: I guess I would like for everyone to challenge themselves when they see a homeless person or someone who looks different than them on the street or on the bus or in your community, don’t make an assumption that you know anything about that person. They may have a Ph. D. My son had a degree in economics. Mark, who is brilliant. Extend compassion. Look them in the eyes as a fellow traveler who is sometimes on a challenging path. Offer some compassion. That would be my thought. It is something that has changed in me since Journey’s experience, and I would love to see more of it.

Hugh: Great. Thank you. Mark?

Mark: If you could think of one person in your life who is struggling now or who has struggled in the past, I would say just reach out to them and give them the URL. Say this podcast, this Facebook live, it looked interesting. Let them know it exists. One of the things that I experienced early on is people don’t know how to talk to people who are going through a challenge. We want to change that. We want to give them those tools. Whether it’s a mother or a father or a son or a daughter or a friend or spouse, what is it we can do to support? One thing you can do is let them know you are thinking about them, whether it’s saying website or Facebook page. That is not the point. The point is let them know you’re thinking about them. Send them things that can be constructive, that could really help them. If they deny that they are able to be helped, they may not like it. But you know what? Someday they will remember it because all people can find a path to health and well-being. Allow yourself to be in the face of those experiences. Be the presence of love. We are all called to be. If someone does come at you and say, “Hey, you shouldn’t have done this or that,” and they are triggered, recognize what is going on inside them, but do it from love, not because you want to heal them or get them better. Do it from love. As you think about them, think about what it is you could do to really be of service.

Hugh: Awesome words. Awesome words. Russell, thanks for being here. It is such a consistent supporter. Mitzi, Mark, thank you for sharing your story. It has been powerful indeed.

Mitzi: My pleasure.

Mark: Thank you so much for having us.

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