Adrienne Kennedy, M.A.

Use these links to go to specific areas of the profile:
Candidate speech
Experience with mental illness
Skills, knowledge and experience relative to the NAMI Strategic Plan:
Driver 1: Build a Movement
Driver 2: Leverage Technology
Driver 3: Drive Advocacy
Driver 4: Focus on Youth
Driver 5: Strengthen the Organization
Employment and other affiliations
Candidate statement in the Advocate
Letter of Nomination

Nominated by NAMI Austin (Texas)

Member, NAMI Austin (TX)

Listen to Adrienne's speech here.

Mental illness has touched my family across generations: grandfather, two aunts, both parents – formative opportunities for learning empathy and choosing love instead of shame or blame. More in-depth education about mental illness began in 1999 as one of our sons was overtaken by the first of many episodes of psychosis.

Please describe how your skills, knowledge and experience will contribute to the NAMI Board of Directors role in delivering on the strategic plan. Using no more than 300 words per driver, respond to each of the five drivers in the 2015-2019 NAMI Strategic Plan.

Driver 1: Build A Movement - NAMI will broaden public awareness and inclusion in every part of the alliance.

Building a movement has been primary focus in my years of NAMI leadership. As an education leader in California and Texas, I acquired movement-building skills that launched projects in public and private education still thriving today. Movement-building requires bringing people together, developing partnerships, listening to needs, mobilizing for solutions, and converting apathy to action.

At all NAMI levels, I bring skills of front-line activism: identify and capture momentum for change, then enroll others to care. Movements must have broad human appeal to light the landscape with the Big Why: Why our movement matters! High-impact issues are the fuse. However, by themselves, they don’t build movements: Courage, Determination, Inclusion, Vision build Movements.

As a Board member (currently 2nd VP, Policy Committee chair, Governance vice-chair), NAMI’s movement-building occupies a pivotal place in my NAMI world. I carry NAMI’s message to highest levels of leadership: political, corporate, public and private sectors. Whether in invited presentations, in my position on the mental health advisory of the Texas Judicial Council, in testifying on key issues, in my faith community or in the grocery store, my focus is building a movement of excellence and urgency about mental health as Everyone’s Issue and mental illness as Everyone’s Obligation to address: both genuine measures of our humanity.

My son’s heroic efforts galvanized my passion. As I became NAMI Austin president (2011-13), he worked valiantly – after 12 years on recovery/relapse rollercoasters – to re-start his life, manage probation, recover from incarceration-without-care. Together we championed his goal of recovery. Yet we both acknowledged the seminal goal: Changing America’s mind about mental health and mental illness. His courage – and others’ –in facing daunting circumstances calls us to build a movement so robust, so bold, that even those with the steepest climb will find help and hope, instead of hostility.

Driver 2: Leverage Technology - NAMI will expand use of technology to build capacity and connection.

Great opportunities in tech-rich times challenge NAMI to infuse smart technologies at all levels to expand outreach, maximize connectivity, streamline training, develop program platforms and facilitate organizational alignment.

My experience in leveraging technology links to my years (late 60s, early 70s) as a curriculum design consultant at SRI International, Menlo Park, CA., on a creative team of engineers and programmers conceiving highly-innovative approaches to interactive exploratory learning. Decades later as a research associate pursuing a doctorate at The University of Texas at Austin (Instructional Technology and Curriculum Design), I participated in early research of real-time online classrooms, synchronous project-mapping and online interactions in large groups, a precursor to today’s webinar.

As a NAMI board member, I follow technology breakthroughs closely to identify which technology suits particular objectives. Rapid advances challenge us to choose wisely. Whether the objective is dissemination of information, maximizing advocacy activity on important issues, outreach to build the movement, data capture and analysis, connectivity across the organization, fundraising or strengthening cause-appeal, or linking resources across the country, NAMI’s effectiveness in harnessing the right technology for the right job is absolutely critical.

Technology decisions reverberate beyond cost/benefit analyses: some must be measured by their culturally sensitive/socially-astute applications requiring keen understanding of the target audience, its needs, interests and habits. Leveraging technology is always a strategic and socially-relevant decision that must effectively and warmly connect subject matter with the user.

NAMI is achieving solid, measurable results with tech activity, especially in social media. Good technology choices abound, but much more needs to be addressed. We recognize that we have miles to go: on our web presence, optimal uses in signature programs and training, leadership development and organizational support across the country. I am committed to continue championing this work during a second term on the Board.

Driver 3: Drive Advocacy - NAMI will lead advocacy efforts that drive increased access and quality.

Beyond my education (political science, journalism) and work experience (investigative reporting, education, research), I bring decades of advocacy experiences, including leading multicultural projects to address disparities among underserved populations: a solid training ground for similar disparities in mental health care. Joining NAMI’s cause was a natural extension of all I had championed for decades.

As this year’s chair of the Policy Committee, I salute NAMI’s Policy staff for work on Capitol Hill and the highly informative, high-quality Public Policy Reports (available online). These tell stories of great scope and vision to sparkimportant advocacy campaigns in the field.

Advocacy is NAMI’s heartbeat, energizing and coalescing national commitment for solutions in place of stigma or scorn. The task belongs to us and to partners who join us.

Advocacy launched NAMI! Armed with the truth of lived experiences, while confronting systems of harsh absolutes and inaccuracies, families and individuals pressed for watershed changes. NAMI founders were real people whose biographies reset the dial for understanding mental illness. The founding generation stood tall as courageous heroes, setting an entire revolution in motion. We are living their legacy.

But the legacy doesn’t stop there. Landscapes change at a blinding pace: forefront research, advances requiring innovation in systems and providers, new knowledge about engagement and recovery, massive challenges in workforce shortages and the long road to insurance parity. These require igniting social/political will for change. We aren’t effective as isolated change-agents. We must capitalize on solutions that leverage community involvement for issues that need addressing. We need a comprehensive, 21st-century template for mental health that must include steady strides addressing mental illness, and equally-steady strides promoting early identification, intervention, recovery and wellness. Momentous opportunities are on the horizon. It’s NAMI’s job to weave the solutions into the social, economic and political fabric of our times.

Driver 4: Focus on Youth - NAMI will develop and implement strategies that engage youth, young adults and their families, expanding our reach across the lifespan.

NAMI’s Focus on Youth sends resounding messages that youth, young adults, young families, and those who serve them deserve early awareness and information to guide them through this active period of brain development. As data clearly show, early intervention matters greatly in improving lifetime outcomes. NAMI’s Focus on Youth is personal to me, as a lifelong educator and as a parent. I know only too well about years lost and lives compromised.

Nationwide impact of this work is striking testimony to NAMI’s urgency for shortening gaps in the “science to service” continuum: from leaps of medical science regarding early symptoms to positive impact in serving young people and our communities.

As a national trainer for NAMI Basics and frequent presenter in the field, I actively promote NAMI’s education and dynamic advocacy of FEP (First Episode Psychosis) innovations. As a board member, I am grateful for the opportunity to open doors to the Texas Institute of Excellence in Mental Health, highly-respected research arm of the School of Social Work at The University of Texas, and research leaders in UT’s College of Education, who will begin research of NAMI Basics – an exciting opportunity toward pursuing SAMHSA’s N-REPP status for another NAMI signature program.

As NAMI continues its outreach and connectivity platforms to engage young people and their families, NAMI’s programs (Basics, PTA, ETS) and resources focused on youth have my gratitude and steady support.

NAMI plays a pivotal role across all populations facing mental health challenges. NAMI is not diluting its mission when it advances work on youth and young adults or frames mental health messages in language that encourages their engagement. These stellar efforts are not only important for their own merits, but also as staunch bulwarks against the severe, life-threatening levels that ongoing symptoms, unabated, can obtain.

Driver 5: Strengthen the Organization - NAMI will grow and develop financing, infrastructure and capacity that support a vibrant and bold organization.

Strengthening the organization has been my clarion call throughout my first term. Working with experienced Board colleagues, stellar C-suite leadership and savvy staff has contributed significantly to my skills and knowledge-base. My yearly committee assignments (three years on Policy, two on Finance and Governance, one on Development and Planning) provided me with wide-angle understanding of our organization. I work to advance dialogue and promote in-depth consideration of weighty issues, all focused on increasing NAMI’s positive impact.

I resolutely join others in working to expand NAMI’s financial base to keep NAMI strong and promote our reach and influence ever-wider. We are rightfully proud of monumental wins in these directions: increased support from private donors, foundations and corporations beyond the medical space, partnerships with media (like Fox Sports), newsworthy thought-leaders, and celebrity involvement. These contribute mightily to broadening NAMI’s nationwide recognition, likewise broadening financial support and capacity. NAMI’s being selected “Philanthropy of the Year” by 100 Women in Finance – a victory driven by a stunning mix of Board leadership and C-suite collaboration – is something that I and fellow Board members are proud to be a part of.

I commit to extending these positive financial and relationship-building trends. NAMI’s deep taproot as well-respected leader in the field and its ability to address the issues of the day, are strengths that we must preserve and grow ever greater. I am eager to harness our energies to carry NAMI into new places, new partnership opportunities and innovative capacity-building that will advance all levels of NAMI.

Strategically accelerating national, state and affiliate efforts in corporate outreach and active partnerships pays huge dividends on all fronts. We must work together to align all levels of NAMI, to maximize the gains (financial, policy, signature programs, and organizational development) and share them equitably to secure NAMI’s effectiveness nationwide.

Job Title or Position: Retired

NAMI Affiliations: Member, NAMI Austin Board of Directors; NAMI Family-to-Family/NAMI Family Support Group/NAMI Basics/ NAMI Parents & Teachers as Allies trainer, NAMI Austin (TX); NAMI Basics/NAMI Family Support Group trainer (stipend), NAMI Tyler (TX); NAMI Family Support Group/NAMI Parents & Teachers as Allies trainer (stipend), NAMI El Paso (TX); NAMI Family Support Group trainer (stipend), NAMI Lubbock (TX); NAMI Parents & Teachers as Allies trainer (stipend), NAMI San Antonio (TX)

Other Board Service: Secretary, Schoenstatt Movement of Austin (Catholic families) Board of Directors, 2006 to current

Previous NAMI Board of Directors Service: 2014-2017

Candidate Statement as Published in the NAMI Advocate

Mental illness has touched my family across generations: grandfather, two aunts, both parents – formative opportunities for learning empathy and choosing love instead of shame or blame. More in-depth education about mental illness began in 1999 as one of our sons was overtaken by the first of many episodes of psychosis.

I discovered NAMI after decades of family experiences left me bewildered and searching. NAMI opened a wellspring of new understanding, compassion and coping, and lit the torch for sharing NAMI far and wide.

Fast forward 11 years of NAMI experience (national board, affiliate president, state trainer in five signature programs, national trainer in two), characterized by strong community-building successes: among educators, provider networks, public and private leadership alliances, professional associations and leaders in criminal justice. In 2015, I was appointed to the Psychology Advisory Committee, School of Psychology at The University of Texas. In 2016, I was appointed by Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court of Texas, to the Mental Health Advisory of the Texas Judicial Council. For me, these are touchstones of building a movement and driving advocacy. Whether at affiliate, state or national levels, I am resolute in advancing NAMI into new arenas to maximize NAMI’s presence and influence.

I actively promote NAMI’s “Focus on Youth” initiatives that greatly expand NAMI’s relevance among youth, young adults, families, and the professions serving them. In testimony and presentations, I emphasize the importance of early knowledge, identification, and support for youth experiencing mental health issues.

Leverage Technology: I consistently voice my support for precise selection of technology to enhance NAMI’s education, advocacy and organizational effectiveness: from information to support, from program expansion to leadership development, from fundraising to advocacy applications that maximize NAMI’s impact on legislation.

Strengthen the Organization: I consult experts on organizational perspectives from many domains. As NAMI’s brand recognition rises, it is imperative for all levels to 1) align effectively, 2) develop new ways to fund the next leaps forward, 3) maximize effectiveness inside the organization, and 4) develop major corporate alliances to partner with NAMI in advancing mental health as a national priority.

Read Adrienne Kennedy's nomination letter [pdf]