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NAMI Walks With Veterans

The following excerpts an article by Blair Young, NAMI Regional Walk Manager, forthcoming in the spring 2008 NAMI Advocate magazine.

With the approach of spring, many of us in NAMI begin eagerly anticipating the chance to join in a local NAMI Walk.

Across the country, NAMI state organizations and local affiliates are implementing programs to reach out to veterans and their families. This work also entails efforts to educate more of the general public.

For many NAMI advocates, it means ensuring that veterans groups and their families are included in NAMIWalks.

Veterans Improvement Program (VIP) is a private non-profit organization that is linked to a day treatment center at the Veterans Administration in Honolulu, Hawaii. Sharon Fountain, Manager for the NAMIWalks in Hawaii, made a series of on-site presentations to the staff and veterans in this program.

One of the veterans who attended, Abraham Weatherspoon, was so moved by these conversations that he also later talked with other VIP consumers, inspiring them to form their own Walk team.

The thirty veterans and staff on the Walk team raised awareness and funds for NAMI through word of mouth, e-mails, and the NAMI Web site.

"We got a great response. It made us feel pretty good to be part of such a tremendous program," Weatherspoon said.

Lynell Akuma, a social worker at VIP and a member of Abraham’s team, said they all asked friends and family to support them with donations. Akuma then talked to staff members, who also decided to ask their friends for donations.

"It was incredible," said Akuma. “The Web site is great. NAMI was so well organized. It was a fantastic learning experience for the veterans. It was amazing how energized they were, and the response to their energy was outstanding.”

Russ Sempell, president of NAMI Kern County in Bakersfield, California, is another strong advocate for veterans and their families. Working with Patrice Maniaci, he helped NAMI Kern County launch a program called "Front Line"–a project designed as a support group for families and loved ones of veterans.

The program has received a robust response—more than 65 veterans, family members, and community leaders attended a recent seminar. Two thirds of attendees reported never having heard of NAMI prior to attending the presentation.

Sempell ascribed the program’s success to this effort to pull the whole community into the process of providing support and resources for veterans and their families. He acknowledged that the greater awareness of the high number of veterans with mental illnesses has impelled NAMI Kern County to broaden the response to veteran’s families.

"Several new members have joined NAMI since this initiative began," Sempell reported. "Next year, we plan to have a very large team of veterans in our NAMIWalk. Everyone is congratulating NAMI for initiating this program."

Learn more about NAMIWALKS in your community.


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