One highlight of the recent NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness) annual conference was its annual presentation of awards for outstanding service. This year’s conference was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minneapolis psychologist Trisha Stark was honored with a Special Board Award, for outstanding work to improve the lives of people living with mental illnesses and their families.
NAMI Minnesota Executive Director Sue Abderholden said, “Dr. Stark is an exceptional advocate for people with mental illnesses and their families and for providers as an active member of the Mental Health Legislative Network, the Minnesota Psychological Association and through serving on numerous task forces.
“She has also been a strong advocate for a more culturally diverse and informed workforce, the expansion of telehealth, increased rates for providers and better treatment for people with co-occurring disorders. As an active supporter of NAMI’s mission, Trisha is not afraid to do the hard work of legislative advocacy. Thanks to her efforts, people have increased access to a better mental health system.”
Lindstrom resident Doug Kraft was feted with a Volunteer of the Year Award, for someone who has given generously of time, resources and energy to either a NAMI affiliate or NAMI Minnesota. “When the pandemic hit Doug worked closely with our staff to quickly take NAMI’s six-hour Hope for Recovery class and turn it into a three-hour class on Zoom. We greatly appreciate Doug’s exceptional leadership as a volunteer and passion for educating others,” said Abderholden. “For those who have a family member who lives with a mental illness it can be a difficult path to find information and support. Doug has made it his mission to ensure that Minnesotans around the state have access to information and support by teaching Family-to- Family and Hope for Recovery classes.”
NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, Minneapolis, was presented with the Provider of the Year Award. The award recognizes an organization that provides mental health services and demonstrates excellence, respect and best practices.
NorthPoint focuses on the whole person, providing culturally responsive, integrated, holistic primary health, mental health, and social services. It has a community board of directors made up of NorthPoint’s patients and people who live and/or work in the community. People NorthPoint serves are largely people of color, non- English speakers, recent immigrants and clients facing a myriad of health, social and economic disparities.
“2020 has shed a spotlight on disparities, the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color and the impact of George Floyd’s murder,” said Abderholden. “We are grateful that NorthPoint is there to provide excellent, integrated, and holistic mental health care to the community that has endured great trauma.”
Northpoint’s behavioral health services help children, including providing school-linked mental health services in several schools, and running the North Side Teen Clinic. It also serves adults by providing integrated mental health and substance use services along with a multitude of support groups.
St. Paul-based RECLAIM was also presented with a Provider of the Year Award. RECLAIM works to increase access to mental health support so that youth who identify as queer or trans may reclaim their lives.
RECLAIM partners with youth ages 13 – 25 who are marginalized because of their gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation. The program not only provides accessible mental health care and integrative health care to these youth and their families, but also includes efforts to increase access to care for queer and trans youth of color and their families by providing training, education and outreach.
Edina psychologist Cindy Nollette was presented with a Professional of the Year Award, given to a professional who provides high quality services, exemplifies best practices, and demonstrates commitment and leadership to the field.
“Cindy Nollette is known for working with children who have complex needs, often autism and a mental illness. She understands the importance of engaging the family and the child’s team at school. In addition, every year, she collects gifts for NAMI Minnesota’s holiday drive – where we make sure that every child or adult who is hospitalized or in residential treatment during the holidays receives a gift. She is truly an outstanding mental health professional and we thank her for her work,” said Abderholden.
Intermediate District 287 Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski was given the the Educator of the Year Award, for helping children with mental illnesses to succeed in school, and include families at the table.
Intermediate District 287 serves students with the highest needs for 11 member school districts in Hennepin County. Students require special education and alternative learning programs. Many have experienced trauma and a large percentage struggle with their mental health. Many have been unsuccessful in school and in danger of becoming part of what is called the school to prison pipeline.
“Sandy has testified at the legislature for specialized funding to provide a mental health professional in the classroom. She led her district to use alternatives to school resource officers by developing strong, trusting relationships with students and their families and by hiring staff who specialize in mental health, de-escalation, restorative justice and safe physical interventions. In the pilot school, arrests went from 65 to 12 in the first year. Now, across all four of its school buildings, the district averages just five arrests per year,” said Abderholden. “Through innovation and dedication, and because of her leadership, District 287 now provides a trauma-informed environment designed to meet the high mental health and academic needs of its students.”
Two state lawmakers were also honored. Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud) and Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) were each given a Legislator of the Year Award, for being outspoken advocates for children and adults with mental illness and their families.
“Senator Relph was the chief author of many of NAMI’s bills including one during the special session to ensure that mental health providers had funding to deal with the pandemic, the enormous civil commitment bill which was over 60 pages and had to go to several committees, the bill to expand our mental health workforce, the bill that funded our children’s residential treatment facilities when we lost federal Medicaid funding and many more,” said NAMI’s board president Carrie Borchardt. “Thank you, Senator Relph, for your advocacy.”
“Representative Moran has focused much of her energies on ensuring that children receive the support they need to succeed. This has led to her authoring bills to support trauma informed schools, changing child protection laws, promoting early and effective childcare, and funding culturally competent mental health care. She has also worked on police reform, and expunging eviction records so they don’t become a permanent barrier to housing,” said Borchardt. “NAMI greatly appreciates her advocacy on children’s mental health and wellbeing and her work to make our mental health system more accessible and culturally competent.”
Frank Lee of the Brainerd Dispatch was given the 2020 Media Award, which is for an individual or organization instrumental in reporting on the needs of people with mental illnesses or effectively portraying the stories of people with mental illnesses and their families.
Lee, who covers Crow Wing County government and other regional news, also helps share information on important mental health issues through social media “Frank often writes stories about mental illnesses or the mental health system. He makes sure that people in the region know about efforts to raise awareness, provide education on mental health and substance use, and resources that are available. We are very pleased to honor him with this award.,” said Abderholden.
The Nickel Open Fund was honored with a Best Independent Event Award, given in recognition of an individual or group who organizes an event to raise awareness and funds for NAMI Minnesota.
Since the loss of their son, Nick, Jordan residents Bruce and Lori Hunstad mobilized their network of friends to host five events to support NAMI’s mission, including starting the Nickel Open Fund and captaining teams for NAMIWalks Minnesota. Their dedicated efforts to raise funds have educated hundreds of people and raised almost $100,000 for NAMI Minnesota’s programs.
The Nickel Open Fund’s Golf and Soulshine Bean Bag Tournaments have helped educate people about mental illnesses and raise funds for NAMI Minnesota’s programs of education, support and advocacy for the past several years, beginning in May 2018.
“Bruce’s goal is to make sure no other family experiences the pain of suicide and depression alone,” said Abderholden. “Bruce and Lori wanted the entire team of the Nickel Open Fund to be recognized for their hard work to make these events so successful. So we honor this network of friends and families for their determination to help others in need.”
The next Soulshine Bean Bag Tournament is set for Feb. 27 in Jordan. For information, go to nickelopenfund.org.