BY MARK CREEKMORE
NAMI is the voice of mental illness, and the heart of our advocacy strategy is our stories of hope and recovery. We have trained hundreds of people to write their stories using NAMI Smarts, the process for writing advocacy stories.
In November we conducted 2-hour trainings in four NAMI classes, training 65 people in total. Three classes were with Family-to-Family groups. (For the last four years we have conducted Smarts training for every Family-to-Family class during the 11th session, which is about advocacy.) The fourth class was composed of the Consumer Advisory Councils from four counties: Washtenaw, Livingston, Lenawee and Monroe.
We start by explaining the three aspects of advocacy, which helps to show that advocacy has multiple applications. (NAMI’s advocacy tries to persuade policy makers to change policies that affect population groups.) We then discuss the five ways that NAMI does advocacy in the community. We brainstorm together about some general rules, the do’s and don’ts of persuasive advocacy. And we talk about policy “asks.”
Then we read a sample story with seven parts, and we analyze the purposes and the effectiveness of each part of the story. Finally, the participants begin to write their own stories. After a few minutes some of them read their stories to the whole group.
Last month’s trainings were single, 2-hour sessions, but the training can be expanded to include more sessions. In length, the stories usually last less than three minutes — shorter is better! — and are designed to pack a punch and build a relationship with policy makers. Policies rarely change easily or quickly and they often require persistence and multiple contacts.
If your group would like to learn the basics of advocacy, contact Mark Creekmore through the NAMI office at 734-994-6611.