Frankie Berger

Berger PicUse 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 Central Virginia (Virginia)

Member, NAMI Central Virginia (VA)

Listen to Frankie's speech here.

Growing up, I cared for my clinically depressed and oftentimes suicidal mom. We were on our own, and I remember feeling isolated and terrified that if someone found out I would be taken away from her. I want to ensure that NAMI is there so adolescents today aren’t afraid.

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.

My work on the board would draw from my extensive experience developing and implementing several successful national nonprofit awareness raising campaigns engaging many thousands of participants, and my broad communications writing and media experience.

NAMI success will ultimately require understanding and support from those beyond the community of lived experiences, and public awareness of mental illness has never been more important. I believe this will best succeed if NAMI chooses a handful of focus issues that the public may currently struggle to understand. Stigma cannot be fought in the dark, and NAMI is well positioned to help shape the public perception by bringing difficult issues, especially around SMI, to light.

Some examples of possible campaigns include mental illness and criminalization, Medicaid and access to care, mental illness and violence, civil commitment and recovery, serious mental illness and treatment, and the lack of psychiatric beds for people in need.

As part of the campaigns, NAMI should standardized and distribute technical assistance programs and toolkits for Affiliates and State Organizations who wish to participate to manage messaging across the NAMI brand.

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

I have built national technical assistance platforms for nonprofit affiliates across the country, boosted membership and grassroots participation, and changed dozens of outdated and harmful laws. I bring with me many strong relationships across systems with people who care about mental illness and have great ideas to help fix the system.

I believe NAMI should empower and help fund State Organizations to provide support and technical assistance through technology. Technology should take into account differences in Affiliates, and include materials specifically tailored for small and rural Affiliates, and for families with loved ones who have SMI.

I believe in particular that rural communities will be much better served though bolstered access to telepsychiatry and telepsychology programs, and these programs should be a growing part of the national and state policy agenda.

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

I am a policy wonk and natural strategist. I bring a strong record of successful policy changes and funding streams for vulnerable populations at all levels of government. In my work as the director of advocacy for the Treatment Advocacy Center, and previously for Habitat for Humanity International, a major international housing nonprofit, I have built a foundation of experience and strong relationships with advocates, state and local governments, state legislatures, and the federal government. I know how to motivate people to action.

My experience with large nonprofits who represent a broad constituency shows that practical steps can be taken to give marginalized groups within the organization clear avenues to express their needs and clear assurances that their voice matters.

NAMI is at a critical juncture. The Strategic Plan recognizes members lose hope when loved ones suffer the consequences of our broken system—a system in sore need of early intervention solutions. If elected to the Board, I will revive NAMI’s representation of families with loved ones who have severe mental illness. Though hopeful for change, this constituency currently feels disenfranchised by NAMI.

Immediately and proactively, NAMI should seek to identify member families of adult children with SMI who are feeling marginalized and work in partnership to develop a plan of engagement. These are some of the most powerful voices, and their passion can be harnessed for change. NAMI should train them with advocacy tools and a social media platform, work with them to create a niche liaison group to NAMI of SMI families, provide them the resources and time to accomplish this, and ensure an open line of communication with leadership.

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.

I have helped create youth education and advocacy engagement programs that encourage young people to participate in activism in their schools, churches, and communities, and to share their work and enthusiasm with others. I have a lot of knowledge about what works and what might not work to engage youth.

The first thing I would do is create a robust NAMI youth internship program focused on state advocacy and awareness raising.

When I was young and my mom was sick, I was terrified that if I told anyone she was, I would be taken away from her. I think it is vitally important to extend avenues to youth and connect them to NAMI through natural touchpoints like schools, church youth groups and sports teams.

First episode psychosis often occurs when young adults are away from home for the first time, experiencing the newness of college life and the stresses that come along with it. NAMI should partner with campus organizations to create tools and step-by-step best practice guidance targeted to campus groups, counselors and medical professionals who can help young educate people to recognize signs of mental illness in their dorm mates and friends, and when and how to involve families.

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

I bring hands-on experience with multi-year strategic planning and change management for Habitat for Humanity, a large nonprofit with a national governing structure and 1,500 state and local affiliated membership organizations. I am encouraged to see the Board’s focus on creating standards of excellence, as these will be key to fundraising and the success of State Organizations and Affiliates.

My background in economics make me comfortable with numbers and finances, and I am enthusiastic about asking people to fund good causes. I know through my activism that there is a lot of money for important grassroots work around youth/adolescents and mental health, and I am eager to help NAMI find it.

Job Title or Position: Director of Advocacy

Employer: Treatment Advocacy Center

Candidate Statement as Published in the NAMI Advocate

Growing up, I cared for my clinically depressed and oftentimes suicidal mom. We were on our own, and I remember feeling isolated and terrified that if someone found out I would be taken away from her. I want to ensure that NAMI is there so adolescents today aren’t afraid.

NAMI has documented how states have drastically cut mental health spending, which I have personally observed through years of activism, most recently as the director of advocacy for the Treatment Advocacy Center in Washington, DC. As a board member, I would use my own personal knowledge as a family member and my advocacy expertise to focus on constructive ways to help those with the most serious mental illnesses and ensure a stronger voice for families in the recovery process.

My passion comes from my personal experiences. My effectiveness as a board member will come from a decade of successfully leading advocacy agendas for national nonprofit organizations, and my record of public policy and legislative process experience at state, local and federal levels, demanding help for the most vulnerable.

I am extremely familiar with NAMI and its mission because I have worked closely with NAMI State Organizations and Affiliates across the country to decriminalize mental illness and help those most in need get treatment and care. I also have partnered with NAMI on Capitol Hill to successfully pass into law groundbreaking federal mental health and criminal justice reforms.

According to NAMI’s own Strategic Plan, many of our members are losing hope as they continue to watch their loved ones suffer the consequences of our broken system. I believe we need to restore hope by helping families through earlier intervention. To that end, I would encourage the Board embrace the following tenets:

  • Access to Medicaid is imperative for all adults with SMI;
  • Psychiatric crises must be treated as medical crises, not criminal behaviors;
  • Severity of illness and anosognosia must not be used to deny people paths to treatment and recovery;
  • Sufficient psychiatric beds must be available to meet need; and,
  • Neglect and criminalization are consequences of denying treatment based upon anti-psychiatry rhetoric.

Read Frankie Berger's nomination letter [pdf]