I am an individual affected by mental illness. I was diagnosed with a mental illness at 17 years old. NAMI support programs offered me hope as a teenager. Leadership positions within NAMI have fostered my recovery process. I am also a family member.
In 2001, I attended a NAMI education and support group in Roanoke, Virginia. I had recently exited a state mental hospital and was receiving community mental health services. My mom was desperate to do more for me, and I was desperate to get better. My great aunt, who was involved with NAMI in Michigan, suggested NAMI. Because there was not an affiliate in my area, my mom drove the two-hour round trip so that she and I could attend the support groups and the educational programs provided by the Roanoke Valley affiliate.
Years later, when I moved to Fort Myers, Fla., I attended a NAMI Connection group. The support I received helped me in my recovery. I wanted to give back. I started volunteering at the NAMI Lee County affiliate office. I made a marketing plan for the affiliate’s first walk and was soon asked to join the board. I have remained on the Lee County affiliate board for the last four years. I have served on the NAMI Florida Board of Directors, as the Chair of the NAMI Florida Consumer Council and Chair of the NAMI Lee County Peer Council. In addition, I currently represent Florida on the NAMI National Consumer Council, an advisory body to the NAMI National Board of Directors. I have served on the Consumer Council for over two years and presently serve as Chair of the Development Committee. I have a solid understanding of NAMI’s education, training, and peer support programs. I have been trained in Peer-to-Peer, NAMI Connection, In Our Own Voice, and NAMI Provider Education. I have taken Family-to-Family. I am a state trainer for Peer-to-Peer. I have shared my story at CIT trainings and at state conferences with NAMI Smarts for Advocacy.
The groundwork for the future is in place with the 2011-2013 strategic plan. Organizationally, it is imperative to integrate the needs of my generation, Generation Y, within our current programs. The programs created with specific outreach to younger adults, such as StrengthofUs.org and NAMI on Campus, are exceptional. However, the future of NAMI depends on its ability to engage a younger generation in the broader advocacy, education, and support work it is currently doing.
Generation Y, currently consists of 70 million individuals. In 20 years, my generation will make up the majority of the population of the United States. Growth is a goal, but sustainability is a necessity. Engaging younger generations ensures the legacy created and nurtured since 1979 remains strong. We must take a close look at the content and delivery of NAMI education programs. Many of the funding streams, from SAMHSA to community-based grants, are financing evidenced-based programs. This places some NAMI programs at a disadvantage. We must address this. Additionally, enhancing the delivery of our programs would help extend their reach.Another priority should be prevention programming. By taking a strengths-based approach, we can address youth populations. Looking at my journey, I wonder if my path would have been easier if I had a stronger foundation of wellness and coping skills. In my illness, it was hard to understand hope because I only learned about it after I had lost it. It was difficult for me to recognize my strengths because I had never defined them when I was well. If we can reach children, youth and young adults before they experience the extreme negativism that mental illnesses bring, they will be more willing to ask for and receive the help they need to avoid the hardships and destruction caused by mental illnesses.
I have over 14 years of service on boards and councils relating to human or social services. On the majority of the boards, I have been the youngest person in the room, bringing a unique perspective. I first assumed active leadership roles on boards in my early twenties, and served in my first executive committee role at age 25. I have participated in nonprofit work since I was a young child because of parents who believed in community service. My interest surged in college with coursework in nonprofit management. Since then, I have been fascinated by the dynamics and trends of the not-for-profit sector. I have found that a board’s greatest challenge can be just helping the organization run effectively. Therefore, I will work hard to ensure that I am listening, asking questions, researching, and jumping into action.
My most significant contributions have emerged from the process of recognizing a problem and then working to solve it. For example, when observing my community I saw a need to address dimensions of wellness for peers beyond mental health. Through the Lee County affiliate, I have organized watercolor classes, a group for whole health, and multiple events. The latest event was a holiday party and health fair with 150 peers from the five-county area. They received basic health check-ups with free follow-up at the local health center if needed. A dietician spoke. We hosted a talent showcase, featuring recovery stories, and created lots of art. It can seem trite to some, but developing social skills, nurturing creativity, and focusing on physical health improves mental health. I have or will be terming off most of the boards I serve on to make the NAMI National board my top priority.
My generation is connected to technology. This technology has radically influenced both the way we communicate and, more significantly, our perception of self and the external world. Research shows my generation seeks nonprofits where they can be a part of a community of change and where they feel they can right injustices of the past. I completely relate to those needs. I serve this organization with such passion because I know my efforts have and will continue to create change. In my work with NAMI, I address the social injustices surrounding mental health: poverty, homelessness, a mental health system that has at times failed myself and my peers, and the stigma surrounding mental illnesses that too often culminates in discrimination. When I first joined NAMI in 2001, I remember receiving trinkets with the word “StigmaBusters” on them. Stigma, or shame, still exists but discrimination, or prejudice, flourishes. Discrimination surrounding mental health is a social injustice my generation will rally behind if given the outlet.
This organization can appeal to a younger generation by small shifts in what we are already doing. While balancing the needs of multiple generations is a challenge, we must address this challenge to secure the future of this organization. Cultivating mentorship within the organization at every level would help bridge the generations and satisfy younger generations' penchant for feedback. Leadership training, including board governance, would be beneficial for all.
In the boardroom, I pay close attention to everything. Even though I am frequently not the expert in the room, I believe I am responsible for understanding every issue. In terms of financial oversight, I am strict about managing each dollar since someone may have given that dollar and had to sacrifice something else to give it. NAMI staff has done a great job in recent years with messaging that is relevant and engaging. There are opportunities to expand marketing efforts for younger generations and to improve visibility with different cultures by use of technology. One of my favorite software tools turns a traditional PowerPoint into a movie. Webinars, which are easy to set up, offer the ability to produce engaging content. In my work, I create websites using open source content management systems and rely on social media. The possibilities for using technology to achieve NAMI project goals are endless.
The challenge is utilizing technology without hampering access or availability. With the roll out of the new microsites for state and affiliate organizations, advancement of technology, and use of media in education programs, it may be necessary for NAMI to offer technical assistance. In terms of fundraising, it is important to recognize that by engaging younger generations we are also engaging a donor population that has yet to be tapped. My generation may not be the wealthiest, but we will make up almost 50 percent of the workplace population in 2014. As the popularity of Kickstarter and similar crowd-sourced funding initiatives has demonstrated, my generation is willing to engage financially with projects when we feel a strong connection to the project’s mission. With stronger messaging and storytelling, we can vastly expand our donor base, and achieve connectivity goals among younger donors..
|Job Title or Position:||Founder and Difference Maker|
|Employer:||Birdsong Consulting, Inc.|
|NAMI Affiliations:||NAMI Lee County, Board of Directors and NAMI Collier County, Consultant|
|Other Board Service:||State Substance Abuse and Mental Health Planning Council of Florida, Treasurer|
|Public Office:||I am not currently serving in public office|
I attended my first NAMI support group in 2001. I vividly remember it as the first time I shared my story and felt that others truly understood me. I have since facilitated NAMI Connection and mentored with Peer-to-Peer. I have shared my story at CIT trainings and presented with In Our Own Voice. I have served on NAMI boards or councils at the affiliate, state, and national level. My experience serving on boards has instilled in me what a great responsibility it is to serve in this capacity. As I listen to the needs within the organization, I address challenges with creative solutions. As a member of Generation Y, I want individuals my age and younger to be as passionate about NAMI as I am. This may require modifications in the delivery of NAMI education. With funders looking towards evidence-based practices, adjusting the content of the programming can help us meet that demand. Additionally, programming focused on prevention would introduce youth and young adults to NAMI, while addressing an important need. The future of NAMI depends on its ability to engage a younger generation in the broader advocacy, education, and support work it is currently doing, so that the legacy created and nurtured since 1979 remains strong. In 20 years, my generation will make up the majority of the population of the United States. Growth is a goal, but sustainability is a necessity. Cultivating mentorship and offering leadership training will serve as a bridge between age groups. As we utilize technology, we will engage new members and donors while increasing our volunteer base. NAMI’s mission creates positive change in the lives of hundreds of thousands affected by mental illnesses. Greater reach to youth and young adults will make NAMI stronger while positively influencing the trajectory of many more lives.