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NAMI Has Annual Meeting, Gives Out Awards

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WOOSTER -- Technically it was an annual meeting, but it was billed as an annual gathering of friends who came together to celebrate the accomplishments of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Wayne and Holmes Counties (NAMI).

"I can sleep most nights now knowing that we are finally in and settled," said Helen Walkerly, executive director of NAMI.

In 2015, NAMI collaborated with AnaZao Community Partners to apply for funding in order to purchase and renovate a building located at 2525 Back Orrville Road. Funding was awarded that covered 50 percent of the total cost. NAMI then engaged in a Capital Funding Campaign and on June 23 a ribbon cutting event was held for the new NAMI and MOCA (Motivating, Optimistic, Caring, Accepting) house facility.

Moving was just the beginning. NAMI instituted a new health and wellness program, hosted training for the board, provided a two-day Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) graduated 13 law enforcement officers from Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), made 18 presentations to local groups and began contacting hospitals in order to assist with individuals being discharged into recovery programs.

The organization recorded 1,685 volunteer hours in fiscal year 2016 and MOCA House staff and participants attended the first State Recovery Conference in Columbus.

The keynote speaker was Bruce Hendrick, CEO of RBB Systems. Hendrick recalled his own experiences with mental health and dedicated his talk titled "Helping the Climbers Climb," to his mother, who passed away in 2003.

"She dealt with mental illness at a time when you just ignored it and didn't talk about it," Hendrick said. "I was always inspired by her resilience in the face of unrelenting adversity. I was sad that she had to climb alone."

"This isn't a story about tragedy and triumph. It is just about one climber, a climber is those of us in recovery. It is pretty common to think of mental health recovery in terms of climbing a mountain," Hendrick continued. "The climbers climb mount recovery. Mount recovery is tall, it is wide and it is beautiful, but it is also treacherous and very scary."

"There are different paths, different trails, different terrain, different threats and in some places, you can only travel single file. There are some places you have to go it alone. You can pause and set up camp and be comfortable or you can keep climbing."

My mother contacted the encephalitis virus and was in a coma. When she awoke, she didn't recall having me. She lost two years of her memory, said Hendrick.

There were important lessons learned at home with siblings.

"Most of the time, it was just us boys, on our own, trying to stay out of mom's way and make her happy. We learned three things: don't feel, don't trust and don't talk. No one had to teach us these things, we learned them," said Hendrick. "Mom had the diagnosis, but we were all sick. We suffered from instability, neglect, shame, isolation and dread.

"I left for college the moment I could get out of the house. I fell in love my sophomore year with a woman who turned out to be a heavy drinker. I felt right at home. Of course we got married, I had recreated my familiar world," he continued.

Three years in, I was facing a divorce and became desperate, and I hit bottom in 1988 at the age of 27," Hendrick said. "I joined Al-Anon, laced up my hiking boots and started my climb. I spent 20 years in Al-Anon rebuilding my life."

"In 1992, I remarried and created a wonderful family, my wife and I. There has been continual mental health concerns the whole time with myself, my loved ones and my friends. I have had direct and indirect personal experience with addiction, anxiety, cutting, depression and multiple attempted suicides."

"Remember this, mental health recovery is so much better today than it used to be. In the 1960s there was a sketchy understanding of mental health, a universal stigma and little community support. You just didn't talk about it, it was shameful and embarrassing."

The night was capped off with award presentations.

Winning the CIT officer of the year was Cory Seiler of the Orrville Police Department. The award is presented to a CIT-trained law enforcement officer who has completed CIT training and has executed the mission and values of the program.

Winning the Ginger Handwerk Service Award was Patty Fitzwater, the assistant director of NAMI Wayne and Holmes Counties. It is presented in recognition of extraordinary commitment and service to the healing and mental health through the work in the MOCA House Recovery Program. This award is in honor of the late Ginger Handwerk of Orrville.

The NAMI Community Service Award went to the Ivan Stutzman family. The award recognizes those who have made a positive impact on NAMI Wayne and Holmes Counties.

Reporter Dan Starcher can be reached at He is @danstarcher on Twitter.