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Building better lives.

NAMI Northeast Iowa

Dedicated to dispelling the stigma associated with mental illness, NAMI Northeast Iowa programs inspire hope that those affected by mental illness will experience the fullest level of recovery possible. Hy-Vee supports this nonprofit organization through the Red “My Heart” Reusable Bag Program.

Tell us about NAMI Northeast Iowa.

NAMI Northeast Iowa is a chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), whose mission is to educate, advocate and support all people affected by mental illness. NAMI Northeast Iowa brings the NAMI mission to five northeast Iowa counties.

In 1977, NAMI National was birthed at a kitchen table in Wisconsin as an Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Moms of children challenged by mental health conditions were frustrated that their children were misunderstood and under-served by the medical, educational and social structures. They were committed to advocating for both their children and for their families. The movement grew very quickly, and by 1979, a conference in California was attended by people from 29 states. The organization’s current name, National Alliance on Mental Illness, became official in 1997.

We see how shortfalls in our systems cause more suffering, and we wish to dispel the misunderstandings about mental illness.

Here in Northeast Iowa, counterparts to those kitchen table moms felt the same need to advocate for their children. In 2014, a group commenced the tedious work of qualifying to create a local chapter. NAMI Northeast Iowa was officially incorporated in 2017. The grassroots effort initiated in Wisconsin continues its legacy nationwide, counting its national membership in 2019 at 200,000. 

The members of our Board of Directors are diverse in their locations, interests, talents and abilities. Among our members, we have a county sheriff, professionals in the mental health field, a CPA who oversees accounting practices, a meditation teacher and author, an energy healer and more. We all serve on the board as volunteers because we are passionate about the well-being of those impacted by mental illness. We see how shortfalls in our systems cause more suffering, and we wish to dispel the misunderstandings about mental illness.

What services do you provide to the community?

Our local NAMI chapter promotes all of the many programs offered by the national organization. Our focus currently is to reinstate local in-person support groups. We emphasize that NAMI Northeast Iowa does not provide professional mental health services. Leaders are well-trained volunteers whose mission is to advocate, educate and support those living with mental illness symptoms and their loved ones and caregivers. We maintain relationships with local professional healthcare providers and are able to offer resource connections and educational programs.

The two primary programs being energized in 2023 are CONNECTIONS and the FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP.

The Connections group is designed to support anyone suffering from symptoms of mental illness. Well-trained volunteers, who themselves have lived experience of mental health challenges, facilitate the group in a carefully structured format. Connections meetings are not meant to be professional treatment. The group meets weekly in Decorah, Iowa.

Our in-person Family Support Group has also been re-established as of January 2023. This group is for the family members and loved ones of people who are living with mental health challenges. In addition to information, they also need support in their stressful situations. Peer support is powerful. As with all NAMI programs, the facilitators of the Family Support Group are specifically trained volunteers who have lived experience with a family member suffering from mental illness. These meetings are held monthly in Elgin, Iowa.

Another vital program we offer is In Our Own Voice, where two individuals with lived experience of mental health challenges share their own personal stories alongside videos provided by NAMI National. The purpose of this presentation is to raise awareness of the widespread prevalence of mental illness. There seems to be a stereotypical image of people with mental illness being disabled, homeless or institutionalized. This program demonstrates that the person next to you, appearing well, actually might suffer from mental illness. It is commonplace yet often secretive. This program has been welcomed by a variety of groups, such as churches, social services provider groups, civic groups, meditation groups, education providers and law enforcement. Our goals are community awareness and education.

What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?

Our passion to blow away the stigma of mental illness is profound. We stand for the right of those with mental illness and their families to receive care, concern and respect. We wish that no one need suffer alone.

We stand for the right of those with mental illness and their families to receive care, concern and respect.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

During the pandemic, when things were a mess, we put our focus on the frontline workers. Our initiative was to support the caregivers working in nursing homes, hospitals and clinics.

Two of our board members visited northeast Iowa institutions to honor the dedication of the frontline workers and caregivers. We supplied treats, banners announcing our appreciation, and expressions of personal gratitude.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

In my opinion, support groups have a crucial impact on our communities. We do many things, but as a person in recovery from different mental health diagnoses, including addiction, I personally know the value of these groups. What’s so helpful about these settings is to be in a room of peers and realize you’re not the only one. To receive peer support in a safe, confidential environment is of the utmost importance. I believe these support groups are our most significant contribution.

What do you want people to know about NAMI Northeast Iowa?

There is no financial fee charged to anyone for NAMI Northeast Iowa services. We are all volunteers. We are not professionals. There’s no financial compensation for service to NAMI Northeast Iowa. We are all volunteers who have a heart-centered desire that is strong enough to persevere through NAMI’s vetting processes. One must submit a written application to become a NAMI volunteer.

How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Hy-Vee “My Heart” Reusable Bag Program?

A large portion of our funding comes from grants and donations. Our public fundraising effort is minimal. When we do sponsor fundraisers, the purpose is more focused on public awareness than money raising. Therefore, to be a recipient of the Hy-Vee Red “My Heart” Bag program is very special to us.

The very well-organized, concentrated training sessions provided by NAMI Iowa and NAMI National have associated tuition, travel and lodging costs. The funds raised in the Hy-Vee Reusable Bag Program will be used to recruit and train more program leaders, purchase adequate educational literature supplies, and raise local awareness that we exist. As mentioned, NAMI provides excellent training for their programs, and as a local chapter, we pay a fee for that training.

When I visited our local Hy-Vee to ask if we could display NAMI literature for shoppers, I was welcomed. Look for flyers for our local NAMI support groups at the end of the check-out counter in the Decorah Hy-Vee.

Is there anything you would like to add?

In Iowa, County Fairs are very popular. We reach out to the locals by having a booth at the County Fairs. This rural Iowa activity attracts a variety of people who come to eat fun food, examine livestock, play in the carnival, cheer the car races, date their sweethearts, look for new sweethearts and reconnect with neighbors. Exhibition Halls offer booth space where we display literature, offer treats and are available for conversation in a casual environment.

Patricia Stevens serves on the Board of Directors of NAMI Northeast Iowa.

Published January 23, 2023.