By Lois Maharg
When I joined NAMI Washtenaw in March 2016, I envisioned volunteering for the sort of hands-on roles I’d had in my working years: as a teacher engaging with students, a reporter conducting interviews and writing stories, a canvasser knocking on doors and initiating conversations on issues I cared about. Leave the oversight and administrative duties to someone else, please!
But about a year and a half after joining the organization, I was asked to sit on the board of directors. The invitation came as quite a shock. I’d attended most board meetings listening for talk of NAMI activities to include in the newsletter. But as a board member I’d have to weigh in on matters pertaining to organizational governance. Did I want to participate in NAMI in that way? Would I have any aptitude for it?
Despite my reservations, I accepted the invitation to join the board. Since then, I’ve observed NAMI Washtenaw both from the point-of-service level — first as newsletter editor reporting on various NAMI programs and later as a facilitator in the Family-to-Family program — and from the oversight level, participating in planning sessions, budget discussions, and conversations about internal governance. From these many vantage points my admiration for NAMI Washtenaw has grown.
It’s not just our mission — improving the lives of people who live with and who care for others with mental health conditions — that inspires me to continue being part of NAMI Washtenaw. It’s also not just because the organization provides peer services, an increasingly important part of mental health care.
It’s the way NAMI Washtenaw fulfills its mission that I most admire, and where I think our local affiliate really shines. The dedication and skill of the volunteers that teach NAMI classes and lead support groups year after year; those who reach out to new communities by telling their stories at schools, churches, and hospitals; those who attend sessions of the mental health treatment court to offer assistance; those who advocate at local and statewide levels for better mental health services; and, finally, those charged with overseeing finances and setting policy. And all these volunteer activities could not be as effective as they are without the support of NAMI Washtenaw’s talented and forward-looking staff.
NAMI Washtenaw is evolving as new mental health needs are identified and new goals are set. Our drive to expand our services to underserved areas of the county and the increased demand for our services during the pandemic have challenged us to expand our volunteer base. We also need to continue working to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the organization. Longer-range planning may make these and other goals easier to attain.
A grassroots organization’s need for stability coupled with a desire for change can create tension. Over the years I’ve observed this kind of tension in NAMI Washtenaw, and it hasn’t always made for a smooth ride. Going forward, I feel fortunate to have fellow board officers with the abilities of Gizem Yagci-Kestly, our new vice president; Patricia A. Streeter, our new board secretary; and Mark Creekmore, our continuing treasurer. I’ll work with these and other board members to achieve steadiness in the areas of finance and operations while promoting programs and initiatives that fulfill our mission in both familiar and novel ways.