Tell us about you:
Sarah Steadman, MSW CVA, Director of Adult and Family Programs with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia. Our organization works to promote mental health recovery for Virginians through support, education and advocacy. We envision a world without stigma where everyone is able to receive the help and the support they need to live a meaningful life.
What is the focus of your work, the need you are addressing?
The focus of my work is around supporting our network of statewide chapters, termed affiliates, and provide support and education through signature NAMI programs. Programs include educational courses, support groups and educational presentations for individuals with a mental health diagnosis and family members of individuals. All NAMI programs are led by individuals that have a personal connection to mental health so we can provide a true peer environment where everyone in the room can say, “I’ve walked in your shoes.” It’s incredibly empowering to see someone else, doing well, who has been in a similar state of crisis and often offers hope and coping strategies and role modeling for how to move forward with a diagnosis or supporting a love one with a diagnosis.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I love seeing the ripple effect of someone being helped, and then giving back and helping others. Our organization relies a lot on the ‘pay it forward’ mentality which means I get to work with some pretty passionate individuals who are walking testaments of recovery. I also love knowing that what I do truly makes a difference. I can observe the changes our programs have on individuals in helping them feel in control, confident in themselves and able to pursue meaning in their own lives again. It isn’t easy living with a highly stigmatized chronic illness but I know there is hope, and it is inspiring to see individuals and families helping each other reclaim their lives and work to create a more supportive culture and service system.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
Similar to many nonprofits, we are always challenged to find enough money to continue to keep up with demand for our programs. The impact of stigma on mental health means it often isn’t talked about. When something isn’t talked about, it isn’t seen as a problem. Money for community services both professional and paraprofessional is slim. We often rely on volunteers to do our programs, we simply need the funding to support the trainings and supplies. We work hard to bring more awareness to the positive impact our volunteer programs have to help encourage grant and individual giving.
What’s coming next for you and/or for your organization that really excites you?
We launched a child and family department last year which focuses on the needs of young children, parents/caregivers, youth and young adults. We know mental health conditions often occur early in life and we want to engage and support individuals sooner rather than later.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?
We use ConnectVA to keep our staff informed on activities and educational opportunities in the community as well as to post job opportunities. I especially value the discussion forum feature which allows me to pose questions to the community around fundraising and volunteer administration. Although I don’t get on as much as I would like, it has always been a great help.
Anything else you would like to share?
If you’re interested in learning more about our organization please check out our website – www.namivirginia.org.