The Heart of NAMI: In Appreciation of Volunteers

APR. 13, 2016

By Mary Giliberti, J.D.

It’s volunteer week, and I want to thank everyone who volunteers for NAMI. Whether you answer HelpLine calls, teach classes, email legislators or share stories on our discussion boards, you make a difference every day in the lives of people affected by mental illness. If you are not one of our thousands of volunteers, please join the NAMI community and bring hope and help to those affected by mental illness.

The data shows that volunteering is on the decline in the U.S., so organizations that are powered by volunteers are obligated to speak out on the value of volunteering. Giving your time not only helps the people you support but also benefits the volunteer.

Volunteering aids recovery and healing and gives meaning to what can be a very difficult experience for individuals and their family. I spoke to an affiliate leader who told me that she started getting better when she started giving back to others because she wasn’t so focused on her own mental health. She was looking out for the individuals in her Connections support group.

One of my favorite events every year is the Train the Trainers conference in which NAMI trains volunteers who return to their states and train others to deliver our programs. I attend the conference to thank people for their service to NAMI, but inevitably I am the one who benefits from being there. I come back so inspired as volunteers describe to me how teaching NAMI programs has transformed their lives and helped them heal, get stronger and thrive. Several trainees have said to me: “Teaching NAMI programs changed my life” and “I get so much out of teaching, much more than I put in.”

Volunteering doesn’t have to require a large time commitment. We are grateful to those who download our app, NAMI AIR, and support peers and families through that technology and others who post their stories on OK2Talk or retweet information to raise awareness or influence legislation.

So many times, the journey with mental illness is about what you or someone you love can’t do.  Gina Calhoun, a trainer for the WRAP wellness recovery program, reminds us to focus on what is strong, not what is wrong. By volunteering, people focus on what is strong—their desire to help others—and it makes them even stronger.

During this volunteer week, we celebrate what is strong at NAMI—our thousands of volunteers who bring help and hope. Volunteers are the heart of NAMI, tirelessly working so that no one faces mental illness alone and gains the education to navigate a broken mental health system. We collectively challenge the unfair, limited access to mental health care that continues to devastate our community. Thank you!

Mary Giliberti is NAMI’s Chief Executive Officer. To learn about ways to volunteer for NAMI, please contact the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI. 

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