Mental Illness: I was no longer an individual but an illness, no longer a human being, but a state of being, and no longer strong, but stigmatized and shamed. Two words mental illness was my state of no longer. Two words mental illness is only a part of I Am!
I walked into a room with five lovely women sitting around a table. When one of the women welcomed me by asking: "are you here for NAMI Care and Share", I was ushered into my first NAMI experience. I was then asked a perplexing question: "who in your family is ill, dear?" my response of "me" was met with another question. "Oh, no dear I mean are you a family member?" With a sense of confusion, I entered into what I consider the NAMI movement. I had to learn new language: family and consumer. Culturally, family is paramount. I was born into a family as a daughter, sister, grand-daughter, cousin and niece. What I learned through NAMI is that there is nothing more valuable in the story that I weave about my life than to include the threads of each our NAMI stories, experiences, tragedies and triumphs. The tapestry I weave will tell the story of how NAMI provides me the opportunity to give back as well as to continually reach forward:
My involvement with NAMI has allowed me to advocate and reduce stigma related to mental illness from the State House to the White House by providing testimony to our legislators locally, in Sacramento and at the White House. I will make sure that I continue to be loud and proud representing NAMI throughout the nation.
These are both exiting and tumultuous times in mental health at the federal, state and local levels. Yet for NAMI this is our time to insure that mental health is integrated into physical health. That Health Information Technology is sensitive to yet empowering for people diagnosed with mental illness. That parity and the Affordable Care Act meet the needs of people with the most serious of mental illnesses.
Our time is marked by the need to be the best equipped advocates in the nation. NAMI's priorities should remain steadfast on preparing the grassroots to continue its strong advocacy in these times of draconian budget cuts. As a board member, I will continue to ask questions, seek out positive solutions, partner with others as well as assist with the creation of tools and resources to ensure that our time is marked by our triumphs.
As a grassroots organization, we (members) are the caretakers of the grass and have a responsibility to insure that it grows. We are the caretakers of our organization and must nurture it in order for it to move from good to great. What holds NAMI together as a national organization? - Our membership. We must develop the most up-to-date outreach and engagement strategies to increase membership. Youth are using social media (as are older adults), but we also have to be accessible to those who are left out due to the still existent digital divide. As people who have experienced exclusion, it is imperative that we work towards inclusion related to access to NAMI for all.
My background in marketing/marketing research yields positive results and along with my experience running a large peer run organization will provide NAMI with fresh new ideas, strategies and tactics to increase our membership especially in our least represented demographics.
Currently, I serve as the Planning Committee Chair leading the Standards of Excellence process. The Standards is more than just a document; it is a vehicle to transport NAMI to the next level. My greatest contribution is insuring that our vehicle, The Standards, include the tools, resources, training and dissemination necessary for local affiliates, state organizations and NAMI to be better together. By improving the interactions between NAMI National, State and Local affiliates, the ultimate outcome is three-fold the power as an organization. Our Committee was also charged with leading the Strategic Planning Process. Strategic planning, even for the most adept, is always met with much trepidation and even disdain. With both Standards and Strategic Planning, you may soon see my picture in the dictionary next to the phrase "hit the ground running"! Yet, it was my responsibility to move the process forward, be the cheerleader for the committee when the workload seemed overwhelming and work collaboratively with the grassroots, NAMI staff and the NAMI board. During my first term on the NAMI board, I was able to move all of the processes forward ultimately reaching our goal of passing the Standards of Excellence and The Strategic Plan. I see this as my greatest combined accomplishment because it capitalized on my experience of serving on my local affiliate board, serving on NAMI California's board and meeting so many in the grassroots. Meeting people where there are - with or without computers, in rural areas, urban areas, well funded, hardly funded, some with staff others purely volunteer - all this is critical to assure the end goal not merely be the passage of The Strategic Plan and The Standards but that no matter where affiliates, States and National "are" that these are accessible tools that will result in NAMI being better together.
To understand NAMI is to acknowledge and honor its genesis as a family organization. NAMI's rich oral history provides vivid images of our organization's growth. Closing my eyes I can see the grassroots of NAMI - the kitchen table with families gathered around in solidarity; existing together not because one gets invited to this club of being affected by mental illness, but rather because frustrations, anger and above all love demands it. These same frustrations, anger and love require all affected by mental illness to join as one. An African proverb states - "let the circle not be broken". The NAMI circle will not be broken yet enlarged with the full inclusion of all who wish to join.
I was known as an "army brat" - born in Germany and having lived/traveled all over the world. There is seriously nothing bratty about moving every four years from one country or state to another. So as we do, when given a label we take the power back (empowerment) and label ourselves. I now proudly proclaim: "I am a global nomad" as it sounds more glamorous than being a brat.
Living in different cultures, learning languages and customs; honoring the country in which I am the visitor, has enriched my life and shaped who I am and what I will contribute to NAMI. Living in new cultures has taught me to listen, learn and be respectful of others' perspectives. Learning new languages has taught me that we all have "language "that is unique to us which expresses our experiences and worldview. The talent I bring to NAMI is the ability to traverse the various experiences and perspectives of diverse members, in a way that honors each member's worldview. And to recognize that our strength is in our diversity which ultimately allows us to be united.
The smartest move I ever made - my MBA! Within the non-profit sector, business principles can sometimes be viewed with extreme skepticism. But, working within the non-profit sector, first in higher education and currently in mental health, I have used the knowledge, skills and abilities that I learned in business school to approach complex issues related to fiscal management, marketing and strategic planning.
In these times of economic volatility all eyes focus on the bottom line. As the CEO of a large Peer Run non-profit organization, you can bet my eyes and attention are held fast to the bottom line. But they are also held to the people we serve and those that are still in need of services. Through employee empowerment, networking and collaborations as well as creative program development in areas that are "hot" and not affected by social service budget cuts, I continually explore and develop opportunities for our fiscal and organization growth. As a NAMI board member, on occasion I get the "hmm you have gone too far outside of the box" but my success lies in pushing the boundary, going outside of the box yet knowing we exist within a rectangle. For NAMI this means fresh new ideas, collaborations and opportunities that are always driven by our mission, vision and core values.
I have managed budgets in excess of 2 million dollars and served as the treasurer for the NAMI California board. Further, my background in marketing research and analysis has proven results in exceeding marketing objectives. My MBA is worth its weight in gold but I am pretty sure my creative nature, interest in people and the knowledge that too many people need and go without help combined with the "book learning" is worth its weight in gold to NAMI.
|Job Title or Position:||Chief Executive Officer|
|Employer:||Project Return Peer Support Network|
|NAMI Affiliations:||NNAMI San Gabriel Valley, member; NAMI, Board member|
|Other Board Service:||Project Return Peer Support Network, Board President (reports to Board Chair)|
|Public Office:||I am not currently serving in any public/elected office.|