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Advocate for Human Transformation

SuEllen Fried to be Honored at Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

SuEllen Fried, an innovator, dance therapist, mentor and advocate for human transformation, has been nationally recognized in the mental health field for decades. She has served as a volunteer in her local and regional communities and has influenced the formation of national organizations, funding initiatives and legislation benefiting hundreds of thousands of individuals and families in Kansas and across the United States.

She is one of nine exceptional women from the metropolitan Kansas City area included in the second class of honorees to be recognized in the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame. Stories of other inductees can be found online. The new class will be inducted at a luncheon celebration on March 22.

Born and raised in University City, MO, Fried attended University City High School where she was a member of the student council. Fried graduated high school in 1950 and went on to study for two years at Washington University in St. Louis. She studied ballet and modern for several years in St. Louis and was a member of the St. Louis MUNY Opera Dance ensemble from 1949 – 1951.

Her career experience with the MUNY, and her relocation to Kansas City after her marriage in 1952, is credited for having influenced Fried’s interest in psychology. She served as a volunteer dance therapist from 1961 – 1978 at Osawatomie State Hospital under the supervision of the Menninger Clinic. Fried often went beyond dance therapy to produce and choreograph musical productions written and performed by Osawatomie patients. Her innovative approach to therapy led to increased early releases of participating psychiatric patients and resulted in regional performances. As a result Fried was led to an early career as a dance therapist at St. Mary’s and Menorah Hospitals. Fried also became a charter member of the American Dance Therapy Association in 1966 and a registered dance therapist. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Park University in 1975 and a Master of Arts equivalency from the American Dance Therapy Association in 1977.

Fried has provided leadership to many mental health boards and associations including the Johnson County Mental Health Association which, under her leadership as Chairperson, established a mill levy that garnered financial support for a Johnson County Mental Health Center. She was also the first woman elected to serve as president of the Kansas Mental Health Association.

In the late 1970s Dr. Karl Menninger, a long-time advocate of Fried’s innovation in mental health, inspired her to lead a study group to visit every prison in Kansas. As a result of the group’s report, legislation was passed establishing Community Corrections across the state. She was then recruited by Prevent Child Abuse America to assist with spearheading the formation of the Children’s Trust Fund, where she served as Founder of the Kansas chapter from 1976 – 1980 and then president of the national organization from 1980 – 82. As Children’s Trust Fund president she traveled across the United States helping to establish chapters in other states. Today Children’s Trust Fund has chapters in all 50 states.

As an advocate of child abuse prevention, Fried has authored several books including “Bullies & Victims: Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard and Battlefield,” written in 1996 just a few years before the tragic Columbine High School shooting.

Fried’s volunteer work in prisons led her to speak at the Lifer’s Club at the Kansas State Penitentiary. Several years later, through her ongoing connection and support, she cofounded a self-help program and curriculum – Reaching Out From Within (ROFW) – alongside one Lifer’s Club member. The recidivism rate, as a result of the program, has proven to be extraordinary, and the program has been replicated in facilities in North Carolina for national development. Fried continues to serve on the Board of Directors and actively promote the ROFW program.

“Over the 32 years of ROFW’s sustained growth, SuEllen has demonstrated that one woman can have an enduring impact on improving the climate of our prisons, reducing the recidivism of our male and female inmates once released, and making our communities safer,” said Russell S. Thompson, Ph.D., director of Reaching Out From Within, Inc.

Fried still continues to address human transformation through dance. She was the first co-chairperson of AileyCamp, a dance camp serving mostly female at-risk students through urban school districts. From its start under Fried’s co-chairmanship in Kansas City, AileyCamp has been replicated in eight other major cities.

For more than 50 years Fried has used dance therapy to alleviate and heal seriously affected mental health patients – primarily women – and has been involved in issues that affect the development of women, girls and infants. She has expanded her reach and impact through the passage of multiple legislative and funding packages and demonstrated the power of female civic and political leadership in the 1960s and 70s.

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is a community-based effort to honor outstanding Greater Kansas City women from all walks of life who have a made a difference in their communities.

The hall was created to honor women who have made Kansas City a better place, said Debby Ballard, co-chair of the hall of fame planning committee, and the nine women in the hall class of 2017 have clearly done so.

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are neighborhood leaders and grassroots organizers, from yesterday and today, both famous and unsung. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live. The Hall of Fame is a repository for their legacies. By sharing their stories, the Hall of Fame encourages and inspires women everywhere.

A permanent display honoring Hall of Fame members is now open to the public on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The display currently includes memorabilia and information about the contributions of the inaugural class of inductees. The library is at 800 E. 51 St., Kansas City, Missouri.

The Hall is named in honor of Martha Jane Phillips Starr, a legendary activist and philanthropist who blazed a trail for family issues and women’s rights. The hall of fame is made possible through the Starr Education Committee, Martha Jane Starr’s family and the Starr Field of Interest Fund, which was established upon her death through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The idea for the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame stemmed from Starr Education Committee members.

The civic organizations that advocate on behalf of women and family issues and have signed on in support of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame include: American Association of University Women, American Business Women’s Association, Central Exchange, CBIZ Women’s Advantage, Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri, Greater Kansas City Chamber’s Executive Women’s Leadership Council, Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, Jackson County Missouri Chapter of the Links, Inc.; Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri; KC Metro Latinas, Kansas City Athenaeum, Kansas City Young Matrons, National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, OneKC for Women, SkillBuilders Fund, Soroptimist International of Kansas City, Soroptimist Kansas City Foundation, UMKC, UMKC Women’s Center, UMKC Women’s Council, UMKC Women of Color Leadership Conference, WIN for KC, win|win, Women’s Foundation, Women’s Public Service Network, Zonta International District 7 and Zonta Club of KC II.


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