Volunteer Spotlight: Mark Creekmore

Author’s Note: Like most of the volunteers at NAMI, I have benefited from NAMI’s services and wanted to give back. One of the biggest challenges I had, as someone who lives with a mental disease, was to figure out how to navigate the healthcare system and get the help you deserve. So, when the opportunity to write a profile on Mark Creekmore, the head of the advocacy group at NAMI Washtenaw County landed on my lap, I couldn’t say no.

I first met him in 2022, during a Zoom meeting he held every Tuesday with his volunteers. I remember a very articulate man. He was preparing a presentation and wanted some feedback. I appreciated the fact that he asked for my opinion even if I was new there. Mark seemed like the kind of person who was open to people’s opinions and experiences. A good listener makes a good leader, they say.

By Stephanie Ratovonarivo

Mark has a Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Work and a master’s degree in social work. Back in 2002, he was training police officers on how to handle critical situations. At the time, he thought it was a good fit for him because he had a lot of experience with the criminal justice system, but he noticed one limitation: all his background was only professional. He was lacking authenticity and lived experience;it is hard to intervene in a situation when all you know is theory, he said.

To better understand how people work, it’s important to understand their stories and how they can affect their behavior. Mark explained that “the basic problem with professional work is, people see it mostly from the point of view of an organization or the profession’s viewpoint. You rarely see it through the eyes of the people you’re interacting with. In many cases, the importance of expertise is minor compared to knowing how people make decisions.” 

That is why working with NAMI seemed like a natural move to make, according to him. With NAMI, you get information from the people who live with the condition but also the friends and family who support them. Their input is undeniably valuable, Mark said. Listening to those stories builds a greater knowledge of how to handle a crisis, which in this case, was paramount for police officers. 

Mark was deeply engaged in the NAMI Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) conferences by attending them, providing resources for the training, but also by leading the CIT training in 2003 and 2004. CIT training teaches law enforcement officers how to safely deescalate mental health crisis situations and how to work in synergy with community members and mental health providers. He also helped address culture change in law enforcement by serving on the committee for officer health and safety for the 21st Century Policing Compliance Commission.

For him, helping people advocate for themselves is a real calling. NAMI has always provided some kind of assistance to people in need, and so does he. With his advocacy group, he makes presentations to people with mental health conditions and their loved ones on what to expect when they ask for services and if denied, what they can do. Most of us don’t know that a complaint process can be engaged and that we can make appeals at different levels. For that, he says, we need to train navigators who know the rules of the system and who know how to find services and file complaints. 

In addition, he wants to make presentations to service providers like doctors and emergency departments. Quite often, coverage for mental health services and treatments is denied by insurance. But doctors can change that decision when they communicate to the insurance company that the treatment is medically necessary, and that insurance is required to pay for mental health services at the same level as other services. Mark wants the providers to know their power in these kinds of situations, something they might not always be aware of.

Another thing the advocacy group does is to support various projects around mental health. They write letters, attend meetings, offer testimonies, expertise, etc. For example, they have recently helped Garrett’s Space, an organization dedicated to reducing suicides and filling critical gaps in supportive care for young adults facing mental health challenges. Garrett’s Space has appeared before the Superior Township Planning Commission and Board for a zoning variance to locate a non-medical residential space on Dixboro Road. Mark has attended three meetings and provided stories to support that. 

Another successful collaboration he took part in was with Avalon Housing, whose mission is to build supportive housing communities as a long-term solution to homelessness in Washtenaw County. Over the years, NAMI has participated in several support and educational programs with the non-profit, but also in Avalon’s building program, such as Hilltop View Apartments in Dexter. His participation involved serial meetings, preparing some testimony, and showing up with a respectful attitude. 

Mark works closely with NAMI Washtenaw County’s Board president Lois Maharg, the executive director Judy Gardner, and the other board members to set the policies of the organization. He remembers the long discussions they had about the future of NAMI. He said, “In the old days when NAMI first started, it was almost entirely a telephone operation. People would call up and ask for help about what to do. And mostly it was family members and friends. We’ve grown a lot. Now we have programs to educate family members and people with mental health conditions, and we offer support groups for them.” In more than twenty years, Mark has seen things evolve at NAMI and he is very proud of that. 

At NAMI Washtenaw County, Mark served as president for a few years. Now, he is the treasurer. He is a full-time advocate for mental health services and support systems in the state of Michigan. He has been Involved in so many initiatives and organizations over the years that he has built a strong network and a solid reputation. He was also a board member for the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health Agency for six years. 

Stephanie is interested in arts, culture, and social justice. She is involved in many non-profits that are linked to those subjects. At NAMI, she is a volunteer for Ending the Silence and a Peer-to-Peer leader. Originally from Madagascar, Stephanie has lived in France, Canada, and the US. She enjoys dancing and spending time with her husband and five-year-old son.

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