A highlight of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Minnesota Conference this fall was the presentation of awards, honoring those who have made a positive difference in the lives of people living with mental illness.
Jeff Zuckerman is a winner of the Volunteer Award, in recognition of an individual who has generously given time and expertise and has shown exceptional leadership as a volunteer with NAMI Minnesota.
“Jeff has been a family support group leader for spouses and partners for over five years. During this time, he has helped countless people find support and know that they are not alone,” said Mariah C. Owens, NAMI Minnesota Board president. “We understand the power that one individual has to create change. Every day, NAMI is inspired by the people who have championed justice, dignity, and respect for children and adults affected by mental illnesses.”
Zuckerman published a book called Unglued: A Bipolar Love Story. The book is about his marriage to Linda and how he was affected by the late onset of her bipolar disorder. It was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards and has won other kudos. Zuckerman has held readings for NAMI groups across the country and donates a portion of the sales to NAMI Minnesota.
Marcus Linn was also presented with a Volunteer Award. Linn ran the LGBTQA NAMI Connection group for more than 10 years, recently stepping down as a volunteer. He provided a safe place for LGBTQA community members who live with mental illness. Linn said, “I strongly believe in volunteerism and especially have aimed my efforts toward the queer community because that is who I am, what I know, whom I love, and need to see strong and healthy.”
“People living with mental illnesses experience discrimination, and some may refuse to seek professional help to avoid the discrimination they may face. Now, consider what it is like to face a mental illness as part of an additionally discriminated group; in this case, as an LGBTQA person,” said Sue Adberholden, NAMI Minnesota executive director. “LGBTQA+ people confront discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity while also dealing with the societal bias against mental illnesses. Marcus wants to make sure that no one walks this path alone.”
Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Public Health and Human Services for more than 23 years, is this year’s winner of the Public Service Award, for a local, state, or federal government employee who demonstrates leadership and commitment to improving the mental health system.
“Dave Lee has been innovative – using telehealth to provide services to people in jail – has worked closely with the tribes, strongly advocated for telehealth, and has focused on suicide prevention,” said Owens. “He also has served on the State Advisory Council on Mental Health, and just recently completed his term as chair. While on the council, Dave advocated for Mental Health Day at the Fair. This event has become incredibly successful in raising awareness of the issue and the resources available across the state.”
Kente Circle and Woodlawn Centers received Provider of the Year Awards, for organizations that provides mental health services that demonstrate excellence, respect and best practices.
The Minneapolis-based mental health agency Kente Circle specializes in providing services conducted from a multicultural and relational perspective. Staff run an institute to provide cultural competence training, workshops, research and consultation. They and UCare launched the Confess Project, a pioneering barber shop movement, empowering barbers and stylists to support clients’ mental health and substance use disorder needs.
“Their name truly embodies the spirit of the organization – individuals like strips of cloth, coming together with their own stories and the cycle of life where it does not matter where you start, we all end up where we are meant to be,” said Owens.
Woodland Centers provides service to people in Big Stone, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Renville and Swift counties. Its wide array of services and support include running a mobile crisis team and providing crisis residential services for adults and youth.
Owens praised Woodland Centers and its focus on community needs. “They recently became a Certified Community Behavioral Health Center and now have peers, recovery peers and family peer specialists. One of the sentences on their website aptly described them: we believe connections transform lives.”
Shandon Halland is the Professional of the Year Award winner, in recognition of a professional or staff person who provides high-quality services, exemplifies best practices, and demonstrates a commitment to and leadership in the mental health field.
“Shandon has been a tireless advocate for improving the mental health of unsheltered people for over 20 years,” said Owens. “As an outreach worker and then a nurse practitioner, he has devoted himself to this work . . . We know that many people who are unhoused or homeless also live with a mental illness. Shandon has reached out to them to provide treatment and ensure their basic needs are met. It doesn’t matter where they are – he goes to them – in their tents, cars, or under bridges, bringing them medication, support and compassion.”
Circle Back Center, part of the White Earth Tribal Juvenile Healing to Wellness Court, was honored with the Criminal Justice Award. The award is for an individual or group in the area of criminal justice that has demonstrated a solid commitment to decriminalizing mental illness.
The Circle Back Center provides mental health and traditional healing to address underlying trauma or stressors leading to negative youth behaviors to restore wellness and avoid the juvenile justice system. It primarily serves indigenous youth using a “culture first” approach to outpatient treatment and aftercare services. Youth engage in hunting, gathering, fishing, smudging sweat lodges and cedar ceremonies.
Discrimination and lack of opportunity mean indigenous youth often suffer from multi-generational trauma of mental illnesses, substance use disorders and suicide. Some studies have shown alcohol and other drug use begin at younger ages — and higher rates — than for other groups.
Hosanna Church received the Faith Community of the Year Award, in recognition of its community outreach to include people with mental illness and their families, and work to increase awareness and acceptance of mental illnesses.
The church in Lakeville, Rosemount, Shakopee and Northfield features sermons on mental health. People feel comfortable sharing their struggles, and benefit from a support group and community connections to resources.
“A person’s faith and spirituality are part of the overall treatment and recovery process for a mental illness . . . We appreciate Hosanna encouraging acceptance within their congregation and paving the way for other faith communities to take similar steps,” said Owens.
Faith-based communities play an important role in reducing these obstacles for people reluctant to seek help. NAMI Minnesota works closely with them to provide education, support, and advocacy for people living with a mental illness, their families, and professionals in pastoral care.
Jan Ormasa is this year’s winner of the Leadership Award, given to a NAMI leader who has generously given time, spirit, resources and skills.
Ormasa served on the NAMI Minnesota Board for nine years, joining in 2013. She generously offered her time and talents to the legislative, nominations, executive and development committees. She served as secretary and second vice president. Ormasa is also responsible for ensuring a secure future for NAMI Minnesota by developing its endowment fund.
“She worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the NAMI Minnesota endowment, so it now has a board and funding,” said Owens. “We have appreciated Jan’s thoughtful leadership, which continues today on the endowment board.”
Dave Orrick received the Media Award, given to an individual or organization that has been instrumental in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, reporting on the needs of people with mental illness, or effectively portraying the stories of people with mental illness and their families.
Until recently Orrick reported on state government and politics for the Pioneer Press. He is now at the Star Tribune.
Abderholden praised Orrick’s work. “He’s written thoughtfully about the lack of services for children, suicide rates of our veterans, and the bill to ban conversion therapy. It’s hard to find out what is happening at the capitol regarding mental health issues, but Dave has brought the information forward.”
Legislators of the Year are Representatives Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) and Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center), honoring their leadership and outspoken advocacy for people with mental illnesses and their families. They have worked on many significant mental health bills.
Albright, who stepped down in August, was Republican lead on committees including Human Services Finance and Policy. “During his time in office, he authored many bills that would positively impact the mental health system, including requiring continuing education for primary care on mental health assessments, a working group on mental health parity, and increasing our mental health workforce,” said Owens. “But this past session is when he truly showed incredible leadership.”
“He worked closely with Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL – Minneapolis) to ensure the competency restoration bill passed – which it did in the last three minutes of the session. He ensured that the stakeholders continued to come to the table to work out compromises, and he effectively worked with his caucus members to support the bill. The competency bill is groundbreaking, and we greatly appreciate his leadership and support.”
Vang was just re-elected to her third term. She has authored many bills to address healthcare equity issues and social determinants of health. “She has authored several NAMI Minnesota bills to increase the size and diversity of our mental health workforce,” said Owens.