National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Carol Caruso has been nominated by NAMI Pennsylvania. View the nomination letter from NAMI Pennsylvania.
Each board candidate was asked to answer several questions relating to NAMI and the experience they bring to the board. Each candidate was limited to 300 words for each answer. Read Carol's answers below:
Why do I want to serve on the NAMI National Board of Directors?
I joined NAMI in 1990 due to a tragic situation with my foster son who has a serious mental illness. At that time I needed support and information and did not know where to turn. I am also a provider of mental health services. When my crisis occurred I suddenly realized that the existing systems left much to be desired. I will always be grateful to NAMI for providing the understanding that I so desperately needed.
I was elected to the Affiliate Board and served as President for four years. I also served on our county Mental Health Committee. I chaired that committees’ Education Sub-Committee for ten years and organized "Walk Beside Me", an annual Walk to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness (now in its’ fourteenth year). Five years ago when our state office experienced near collapse and financial ruin, I was elected to our state Board. I held the position of state president for the next four years and continue in that position today. In 2001 I served as Secretary of NAMI’s State President’s Council, and currently serve as Region I Representative. I also served on NAMI’s Joint Task Force for Consumer Inclusion.
I trained as a NAMI Support Group Facilitator and Family to Family Trainer. I volunteer as Pennsylvania’s Family to Family Coordinator. I have also worked to promote "In Our Own Voice" and its’ incorporation into our Police School.
I want to join the NAMI board to give back to NAMI what it has given to me. I want to strengthen ties between our state and national offices. I want to promote our educational programs for both family members and consumers. I want to help diversify funding. Finally, I want to help NAMI reach its’ full potential.
What financial management or fund raising expertise would I bring to the Board?
As president of NAMI Pennsylvania I serve on both the Finance and Fund Raising Committees. For three years I have co-chaired our Silent Auction, a fund raising event that we’ve incorporated into our annual state conference. In 2004, I co-chaired our first annual NAMIWalks which raised $92,000. On the local level, I have participated in our financial planning for many years. This has been very conservative but has enabled us to secure a tidy "nest egg" that relieves many financial pressures (this came mostly from our annual end of the year fund raisers and our on-going memorial tributes). When our state office faced near financial ruin five years ago, I participated in the re-building of our organization and the paying off of an astronomical debt. One of our strategic goals established at our state board retreat three years ago to diversify our funding sources; and fund raising was to be a major focus. I have no qualms in asking for financial support for NAMI; what NAMI’s educational programs offer to families, persons with mental illness and professionals, is not matched by any other advocacy group. I feel it is very important to grow these programs and this can only happen with funding. On the NAMI board I will make this a major focus of my energy.
What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today? What course of action do you suggest?
There is no doubt in my mind that the terrible stigma associated with mental illness is the most pressing issue facing NAMI today. No other physical illness is subjected to so much misinformation and misunderstanding than are the serious and persistent mental illnesses. The guilt, shame and embarrassment that causes families to hide their "secret" and individuals with mental illness to avoid seeking needed help is a disgrace on our society. The media is largely to blame, with its’ negative and often incorrect depiction of pervasive brain disorders. This affects our entire society from our children on up through to our seniors. Attitudes are formed by lack of information, or misinformation, and NAMI must take on an even more aggressive role than it has in the past to combat this. I suggest an active anti-stigma campaign that stresses education to both the media and to the public in general. Outreach and education through our educational programs (especially In Our Own Voice and Family to Family) is extremely important. Increasing our Stigma Busters efforts and encouraging all of our NAMI members to speak out and dispel the myths – to take every opportunity to educate their neighbors, friends and even their own families about mental illness- is essential in this effort.
Our work in mental health drew my husband and me into the family movement in the early ‘80s. Some of NAMI’s’ founding members were in our area, and their family members were in treatment at our agency. We were supportive of the growing family and consumer movements from the outset. However, it was the need for support and understanding in my situation with our foster son with a mental illness that triggered my NAMI membership. When I found myself on "the other side" and experienced first hand the blame, guilt and shame that families are subjected to, I made a vow to fight to overcome these. I always admired NAMI’s grassroots tradition. I also always felt that the backbone of the NAMI movement was its’ support groups and educational programs. I know that these are what inspired and helped me and therefore they became my tool to help others. On the affiliate level, I became coordinator of our four monthly support groups (as well as a co-facilitator of one) and a Family to Family teacher. On the state level I trained as both a Support Group Facilitator Trainer and a Family to Family Teacher Trainer. I volunteer as our Pennsylvania Family to Family Program Coordinator. I will soon be trained in the NAMI Provider Education Program and will be a part of a team in southeastern Pennsylvania. I am working very hard to grow Peer to Peer in Pennsylvania as well as In Our Own Voice, which we have incorporated into our Montgomery County Emergency Services’ Police School for the past two years. I am passionate about NAMI’s educational programs and feel they not only serve to educate about mental illness, but they help so many people feel less isolated and more connected.
At this point, internal management and financial controls are to me our most pressing issue. As a board member, financial oversight would be a major concern. Good financial data on a monthly basis is a must. Having come through near financial collapse with our state organization five years ago, I know how absolutely crucial it is for the board to closely oversee the organizations’ financial records. In order to assure the financial health of the organization we need our executive director to keep the board informed and we need an active Finance Committee. We need to develop steady streams of funding and to develop strategies for fundraising. We need to help our local and state affiliates with the same, and to work cooperatively and not competitively with this. These are challenges that NAMI faces and I hope to be a part of working towards some solutions.