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Ron Morton -- Nominated by NAMI Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

I am Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek. I am a veteran of the Vietnam War and I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have struggled with my own illness and that of my family members. Never give up. I have an illness, but more importantly, I have hope.

What brought you to NAMI and what roles have you played in your NAMI Affiliate and NAMI State Organization?

Honestly, when I first became aware of NAMI, I knew little about what type of organization it was. Though I had seen a great degree of mental illness in my life and that of my family, I was aware of very few resources at the time. Then in 2004, I was approached by my boss and asked if I would be interested in sitting on a board of a local mental health organization. Having been in mental health for 25 years, it seemed like something I should do. I was amazed to find out how important NAMI is in the lives of so many people. It is clearly an organization that I wish my family had access to during our many dark years. I saw an opportunity to help with an organization that was providing important assistance to family members and consumers like me. I could not refuse and I have not been sorry. NAMI has helped me far more than I have helped it. I am currently a NAMI National Board member; I am one of the founders of the Diversity and Inclusion Work Group; I am involved at the board level with my local Knoxville affiliate; I am on the NAMI Veteran's Council; the NAMI Tennessee Veteran's Council; I am also a member of the NAMI American Indian Alaskan Native Networking Group.

What advocacy and organizational priority areas do you believe NAMI should be pursuing in the next three years and how can you help as a Board member?

Advocacy: I believe that one of greatest priorities is mental health services for active duty military and discharged veterans. I understand the depth of the problems facing our active duty military. I have a son in law who is in the Army. While he is doing well right now, I have to spoken to several of his friends who know that they are suffering from PTSD but won't come forward for fear of damaging their careers. Did you know that any active duty military who has a secret clearance must report every 5 years whether or not they have received mental health services? If you were active duty and wanted to keep your clearance, what would you do? We must find a way to make it safe for our military to seek services while protecting their careers. The suicide rate in the military continues to increase while the leadership of our country dithers. It would have been much worse had the government shut down like it threatened.

Organizational: I believe that it is imperative that NAMI diversify its funding base. Current funding could disappear at any time. In reality an important percentage of our funding is dependent on the good graces of others. We must ask ourselves how we can best generate new funding in an environment where it is becoming more and more scarce. What is our product and what is it worth? One key is our membership. Our membership is our greatest asset. How do we make use of that? More importantly, how do we keep our membership satisfied that their best interests are being met while petitioning them for more resources? Our membership is also our knowledge bank for new ideas. We need to tap this resource. Our greatest resource is our membership.

Please describe any previous service on a board and what you regard as your greatest contribution to that organization's work through your service on its board.

I have spent the last year on the NAMI national board of directors. During that time I have been on the Planning Committee; the Development Committee; the Convention Committee and was the Chairman of the Ad Hoc membership committee. During this period of time I have learned more about how the board of directors works and what it takes to fit in among such a powerful group of people. I have spent a lot of time listening and learning. The national board of directors works very hard to do the right thing. Though they do not always agree, they always part as friends. This is important knowledge for any potential board member to have.

I have also been involved with the board at the local affiliate level with NAMI Knoxville. During my first tenure on the board, I worked very hard to help solve many of the procedural and fiscal issues that were facing the board. As a result of my work, I believe that my affiliate was stronger. After a leave of absence, I have returned to assist my affiliate again and look forward to working with the board to make it a vibrant leader in Tennessee.

In past years I was on the board of the National Council of Urban Indian Health. I helped create the NCUIH and was its first president. Our mission was to advocate for increased funding for urban Indian Health Programs. During my year as president I increased federal funding to our programs by 4 million dollars. I am proud of my work on the NCUIH and I am happy that it still exists to advocate for urban Indian people.

How can you contribute to NAMI's evolution as "a dynamic, well-run organization that seeks and engages a diverse and growing membership," as called for in the NAMI strategic plan?

I could say that my record speaks for itself but I will not because I will never believe that I have done all that I could do. This is my strength. I will never be satisfied as long as I know that there are consumers and family members suffering on the edges of our society. I have worked in urban areas and I have worked in rural areas. What I have seen is that our society often does not see the disenfranchised. We are all so busy with our everyday lives that unless we are personally connected, our own issues, necessarily, are what we pay the most attention to. For NAMI to remain a dynamic organization we must create an atmosphere of inclusion that brings all opinions to the table whether we want to hear them or not.

At the same time I can provide a steady hand of leadership as our membership grows in diversity. I have the ability to not only hear the words but feel the experience behind them. If NAMI is to continue to be dynamic it must be willing to hear those messages that are most distasteful and possibly most frightening. We must not react to these words as much as we must use the knowledge they impart to improve our organization and thus the many services we provide to family members and consumers. A dynamic and well run organization is one that is innovative, hears the membership and leads through action and patience. We must embrace diversity if we are to be truly innovative and them we must listen to those we embrace.

What fund raising, financial oversight, legal, marketing, or information technology expertise do you have to offer to NAMI?

In the 1990s I was the Executive Director. When I took over the position we had a budget of 1.4 million dollars. When I left our budget was well over 4 million. However a budget is more than just dollars and cents. It is profit and loss; appreciation and depreciation; liabilities and administration. Financial oversight requires that a board member be willing to do the right thing even if it irritates. We are fortunate that NAMI national has been strong in this regard. Nevertheless, financial oversight means that we are all responsible to make sure that the money is spent the right way and the way the membership wishes. Another important aspect of oversight is auditing. Are we being audited by a truly objective company? How often do we change auditors? It was a real revelation to me when I learned that you could ask an auditor to recommend changes in your practices. No financial system is perfect. I believe every audit should look for weaknesses and recommend changes. When I was Executive Director of the San Diego American Indian Health Center and as a member of the St. James Episcopal Church Vestry I always demanded these recommendations from our auditors.

I began using personal computers in 1982. My first computer was an Apple 2c. Since 1989 I have been building my own computers. I was on the internet before it was the internet. At that time it was primarily a number of BBSs that you could call by telephone and connect to a database. I am well versed in information technology and I am comfortable talking about it as well as critiquing it as I am sure our NAMI IT expert will attest.

Job Title or Position: Director of Recovery and Resiliency
Employer: Value Options
NAMI Affiliations: NAMI Knoxville, Board member; NAMI Tennessee, Veterans' Council member; NAMI, Board member
Other Board Service: none
Public Office: I am not currently serving in any public/elected office.

Candidate Statement as Published in the NAMI Advocate

NAMI is an organization that I have come to love because it has helped me more that I have helped it. I often wonder how many people out in society are at their wits end because they do not know where to turn. NAMI is the organization they can turn to, but how do they know that? Those of us who have worked with NAMI in various capacities, board member, facilitator or council member, know how much NAMI has to offer. And yet, we are forced to battle with more mundane issues such as decreasing funds or a disinterested community. We all need to step up and throw our strength into the effort. Board members are not magic.

We know that active duty military need us. We know that we should work to include the disenfranchised and oppressed in our communities, but how? We do this by tapping our greatest asset, our membership. Our membership is the back bone of our organization and is the core of our creativity. On an annual basis our membership turns the chore of running NAMI over to a group of people that we call board members.

I am proud to be a board member now and hope to be one in the future. I have years of leadership and administrative experience to bring to this effort. But in most ways I am no different than anyone else. Now we are taking on the challenge of making diversity and inclusion a core aspect of who we are as a national organization. God bless our effort. We must embrace diversity and by thus doing make our organization more innovative and forward reaching. We will become more innovative by becoming more inclusive.

These are the challenges and promises for our organization and I want to help.

Ron Morton's Election Speech


Related Files

Ron Morton Nomination Letter (PDF File)

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