NAMI: How Strong Can an Affiliate Be?

The answer: Very Strong.

NAMI can make a tremendous difference, on levels from personal to political, and ranging from local to national.  I have felt it as a Family-to-Family participant, teacher and trainer; I have, I hope, nurtured it as a NAMI National Convention Presenter, and as a writer.

And, as a speaker and broadcaster, I’ve had the honor and privilege to see NAMI in action, in so many ways.  As a family member, I know that NAMI helped me to:

  • learn about and accept my son’s illness
  • know that I was not alone, and
  • find ways to turn our grief into advocacy and action.

Nowadays, NAMI serves and can represent those who are living with mental illness as well. Some call those affected by mental illness “consumers”, others say “clients”, or “patients”, or “individuals”…and the debate on the right term may go on.  However, the need for respect, individual treatment, understanding and hope remains the much more important issue than finding the right word.

Keynote on Mental Illness: From Chaos to Hope

namiSummitbusLast week, I got to know NAMI Summit County, Ohio, when I served as the keynote speaker for their 27th Annual Anniversary Celebration Dinner/Auction, themed “From Chaos to Hope.” So close to the subtitle of Ben Behind his Voices…it had to be fate.

When I get the chance to speak to groups of those who care about mental illness issues as much as I do, I always feel that I learn more than I teach; once again, in Summit County, this proved to be the case.

The audience was filled not only with those affected by mental illness in themselves or a loved one, but also with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trainer officers, judges, lawyers, healthcare and social citlogowork professionals , politicians, and other friends. I learned about the courage, resilience, and actions of so many, by listening to the recipients of the evening’s Awards: Journey of Hope, Community Recognition, Lifetime Achievement, Heroes Make a Difference.

I met people who had lost a loved one to mental illness and turned their grief into advocacy; I met those living with mental illness who now mentor others in the same situation; I met the leaders of this affiliate, including of course Mel and Helen Reedy, who have spearheaded so many wonderful programs that show what NAMI can do when there is a vision, and it’s properly supported.

NAMI Educational and Support Programs, and Beyond

NAMI Summit County, in addition to providing the Educational and Advocacy services we often associate with a NAMI Affiliate (support groups, speaker series, Family-to-Family, Basics,  and other educational programs), offers assistance to those who are striving to cope with a brain disorder. These programs include:

HousewarmingHousewarming provides new, basic household items to assist persons who can now live independently. Since the program’s inception, over 1,000 requests were filled (207 in 2011, alone), aiding in the transition to leading and independent life.Needy Soles

Needy Soles footwear provides shoes, socks and other footwear to those who cannot afford to buy their own. 664 pairs of shoes were provided in 2011 via vouchers provided through our local Community Support Services organization.

Hair Care Program

Limited income can mean sacrificing basic personal care. A trip to the barber shop or salon promotes self-confidence while providing a basic need. Clients may obtain a voucher redeemable at the Akron Barber College. 608 haircuts were provided in 2011.

Creative Kids

A scholarship program offering the opportunity for kids in Summit County with Mental Health issues to participate in extracurricular activities such as art, drama, martial arts, music and more.


Recovery in mental illness is a community process, and I am grateful to NAMI Summit County for showing me yet another example of what can be done when someone has a vision, and many work together to make it come true. That, indeed, is the path from Chaos to Hope. No one does it alone.

Thank you!

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