By Linda Koopmann
On March 27, 2021, seventy-six members, friends, and associates of NAMI Washtenaw County (NAMI WC) gathered together to celebrate NAMI WC’s accomplishments in 2020, review plans for 2021, and elect three new board members. The individuals officially added as members of the board were Lisa Fabian, Patricia A. Streeter, and Gizem Yagci.
When in-person meetings were no longer permitted by the state at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in late March 2020, NAMI staff and volunteers were faced with a monumental challenge. After all, meeting in person to educate, train, and provide personal support is what NAMI does! How could all of those programs somehow continue virtually and provide the same level of support?
Zoom seemed to be the most likely choice for moving meetings online, but would NAMI WC program participants be comfortable sharing their personal stories in a virtual group meeting? Some program facilitators were also a little skeptical, but all were willing to learn how to use the new platform. Within a month, programs and support groups were up and running, and people were beginning to participate in online programming. The final participation numbers are impressive:
- Peer-to-Peer held 6 eight-week sessions; 43 people graduated from the program, with the help of 20 active trained leaders.
- Family-to-Family held 4 eight-week classes; 70 people graduated from the program, with the help of 24 active trained leaders.
- Eight support groups held monthly or bi-weekly virtual meetings throughout the year; 3 of these groups were newly formed that year. Roughly 697 people attended a support group in 2020, with the support of 17 active trained leaders.
- Advocacy leadership completed several important initiatives. The team created a candidate survey in partnership with 8 community agencies in advance of local elections. Trained storytellers advocated for the affordable housing millage proposal, which did pass. And research was conducted on digital equity.
2021 looks to be an exciting year for NAMI WC, with the following goals:
- Ensure that there is space for all at NAMI, regardless of race, income level, education level, diagnosis type, and more.
- Improve outcomes for people with mental health conditions through early intervention programs.
- Continue to use the power of storytelling to shine a light on the experience of those who live with a mental health condition and their loved ones.
- Continue to make partnerships, grassroots, and community-driven efforts central in all of our work.
After the business portion of the annual meeting was completed, our guest speaker, The Honorable Karen Quinlan Valvo, 15th Judicial District Court, offered comments about her work and answered questions. Judge Valvo was chosen to be the guest speaker at this meeting because she presides over the specialized Mental Health Treatment Court and Veterans Treatment Court dockets. We believed our membership would be very interested in learning about diversion from the traditional prison system to the treatment court, how the process works, and the plans for the future.
When asked what NAMI WC members could do to support the work of these special courts, Judge Valvo mentioned the need for mentors to walk alongside and offer support and companionship to those who are in the Mental Health Treatment Court. These mentorships would be similar to those provided through the Veterans Treatment Court.
As a prelude to Judge Valvo’s participation in the annual meeting, Cathy Hearn, a volunteer member of our newsletter team since 2017, interviewed the judge via Zoom in early March. Their in-depth interview is posted on the NAMI WC website. I encourage all to read this very informative interview that includes a description of the Veterans Treatment Court mentorship program.