By Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.
NAMI CEO Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. (right) accepts the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Professional Forum’s Organization of the Year Award from P2P’s President David Hessekiel (left).
Earlier this month, I took my first trip in two years to represent NAMI at the annual conference of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. It was an honor to be in a room full of so many passionate people from so many nonprofits doing amazing work. It was an even bigger honor to accept the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Organization of the Year award on behalf of NAMI.
NAMI Walks, our signature peer-to-peer fundraising event, was an event that primarily took place in person. But, just as the pandemic forced us to adapt how we work and live, it also caused us to adapt how we volunteer, how we fundraise and how we spread awareness. That’s why in 2020 we rebranded NAMI Walks to NAMI Walks Your Way — because mental health isn’t “one size fits all,” and our fundraising and awareness efforts shouldn’t be either.
Over the last two years, we’ve had more virtual and hybrid walks than ever before. Last year, we raised 31% more than the previous year through our NAMI Walks Your Way peer-to-peer fundraising program.
This is a testament to the strength of our alliance and the dedication of our staff and volunteers across the country, and also to the ways in which people across the country have gained a new appreciation for mental health.
The fear, uncertainty and doubt of COVID-19 brought many challenges, but it also brought many opportunities. I’m encouraged by the way people have seized those opportunities to talk about their mental and physical health more openly, to re-prioritize their mental and physical health more fervently, and to advocate for better mental health policies more urgently.
After receiving the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Organization of the Year award, many people reached out to thank NAMI for the livesaving work our organization is doing, and to share their own stories of lived experience with mental health challenges. It reminded me of why our NAMI Walks Your Way slogan is “Mental Health for ALL” — because mental health truly does affect all people in one way or another. It even affects those of us in service-oriented professions.
I’m so proud of the huge strides we’ve made through the NAMI Walks Your Way program, not only because it means we’ll continue to be able to fund the many services we strive to make accessible for all people struggling with mental health conditions, but also because it represents the way thousands of people across the country have rallied together to turn their pain and difficulties into a force for good. There’s nothing more inspiring than that!
As we look forward to re-imagining our “new normal” after COVID-19, there is no doubt that there will continue to be challenges ahead. Even as the physical pandemic begins to subside, the impacts of the mental health epidemic it created and exacerbated will certainly live on.
But if I’ve learned anything from the many passionate people who’ve participated in NAMI Walks Your Way, it’s that there will also be new opportunity: opportunity to keep walking, to keep rising, to keep hoping.
I’ve learned that when the road becomes hard, when you’re forced to navigate an untrodden path, and when you’re exhausted from your depression, when you’re burnt out from the hardships of life, and when you’re tired of advocating for yourself and/or your loved ones — you don’t have to think about the whole journey; you don’t have to sprint; you don’t have to run. You just have to take it one step at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time.
Because you’re not walking this journey alone. And together, anything is possible.
For more information about NAMI Walks Your Way and our Together for Mental Health (#Together4MH) campaign, visit namiwalks.org.
Daniel H. Gillison is the chief executive officer of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Prior to his work at NAMI, he served as executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) in addition to several other leadership roles at large corporations such as Xerox, Nextel, and Sprint. He is passionate about making inclusive, culturally competent mental health resources available to all people, spending time with his family, and playing tennis. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanGillison.
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