Editor’s Note: This column, a Q & A, is taken from an interview I conducted with Pat Root, now president of NAMI Washtenaw County.
LM: Tell me about how and when you first came to NAMI Washtenaw County.
PR: I came to NAMI six or seven years ago. I was a client at Community Mental Health, and Bob Nassauer came to talk about a program called Peer-to-Peer that he wanted to bring to Michigan for the first time. He was looking for people who wanted to be involved, and I was very interested and excited. I went to a planning meeting for Peer-to-Peer and haven’t looked back.
LM: Did you go through the program yourself?
PR: No, that was not possible. Peer to Peer is a NAMI signature program, but Bob was working to bring it to Michigan for the first time. A group of us were trained by people who came in from NAMI National to be Peer-to-Peer facilitators without the benefit of having taken the class ourselves. I’m now a state trainer for Peer-to-Peer, which means I teach groups of people how to facilitate the class.
LM: You also serve as chair of the Program Committee. How did that come about?
PR: The Program Committee was formed maybe two and a half years ago. I think I assumed the role of committee chair, I don’t think I was invited. Everybody else stepped back!
LM: You stepped up and they stepped back, huh?!
PR: It’s very exciting because now I’m a cheerleader for all of our programs and initiatives. And I really honor the past of NAMI Washtenaw and all the people who got us to where we are today. We have a robust set of programs. I’m proud of the individuals who made all this happen. I honor them and treasure their continued involvement.
LM: Then you became vice president and, now, president.
PR: There’s a current bylaw that says the vice president is the board chair elect. When the person who was elected president last fall resigned at the end of March, I became president. The bylaw made that possible.
LM: What issues have taken most of your attention in these first few months?
PR: It’s working with the board and with our fabulous executive director, Judy Gardner. We’ve developed a very productive, very compassionate relationship. Having an executive director for the first time is crucial to our present and our future. Also one thing has changed. People seem to be enjoying board meetings more than before. I think of my role as more of a listener than a talker. I really want to hear what everyone has to say, and I want to build consensus. I don’t want to be making the decisions and expecting the board to approve them.
Also, we need to fill some vacancies on the board. People want board members who are passionate about our mission, which is to improve the lives of people affected by mental illness. And that are congenial team players, plus have the skills, abilities and experience that we need. One of my roles is to get us ready to have people like that join us, to prepare us for the arrival of the new board members. To orient them, and to welcome them to our group. Vetting them, recruiting them, and then orienting them and integrating them: That’s one thing I think about a lot.
LM: What about some of the other organizational challenges in the next six months?
PR: We have two big projects coming down the pike. We have in the works a possible expansion of our contract with Washtenaw County Community Mental Health. That is expected to have us engaged in the eastern part of Washtenaw County in a way we’ve wanted to be for a long time. The other big project is that we have received a 3-year grant from St. Joe’s Hospital in Chelsea to provide NAMI programs in the Chelsea/Dexter area. There will be a special focus on youth. These two new things, in addition to our four support groups, Family to Family, Peer to Peer, and Ending the Silence. There’s a lot going on!
LM: Last fall you and I went to a board development seminar and we agreed afterwards that in its life cycle as an organization, NAMI Washtenaw was somewhere between adolescence and mature adulthood.
PR: Yes, and I recently learned that some NAMI affiliates are in the stagnant and renewal phase. They don’t have enough people to meet the need. I’m excited about what we’re doing because we’re wanting to do more than we’re currently doing. We’re in a growth stage, not stagnant in any way. We’re very vibrant.
LM: Is there anything else you would like to share to introduce yourself?
PR: There is one other thing. As far as I know I’m the first person to be president of NAMI WC who lives with a mental health condition. For me it’s bipolar disorder II. At our first meeting with me as president, I explained to the board that taking care of my mental health has to be my first priority. I listed what it is I do to take care of my mental health and how much time that takes. They were very kind. Although I’m in a good place in my recovery there are definitely still challenges along the way. I was very, very ill for a long time, and I do all I can to not go back. I know I got lucky, and I’m very grateful.