October is the month to be aware of mental illness and learn more about its effects on individuals, families and the community. Earlier this month, free depression screenings were offered, and the Seneca Sandusky Wyandot chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness observed the 25th anniversary of its founding.
To celebrate the occasion, NAMI-SSW hosted a dinner and presented the Ray of Hope award for 2013. Each year, the honor goes to a person or people who have contributed outstanding service to the organization.
Lois and Lee Waggoner of Fremont were the awardees this year. For more than 13 years, the married couple has volunteered their time and experience to teach and help others struggling with mental illness.
When Lois came to the podium, she expressed thanks to the people who directed her to NAMI and said, "NAMI does so much more for us than we do for them."
Lee echoed her remarks.
"This award should go to my friends in NAMI who helped me," he said.
Initially, the Waggoners were active with NAMI's Connections Support Group. Next, they received training as Family to Family facilitators. Now, they lead a Family Support Group once a month in Tiffin and Recovery Groups in Fremont. They also speak about their own experiences through the "In Our Own Voice" program.
Lee is a past member of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, and Lois serves on the Sandusky Cross Systems Mapping Grant team.
During the dinner, NAMI-SSW director, Melanie White, explained the grant is being used to "map out" all mental health services in Sandusky County. White said 40 people came to the meetings, identified five key concerns and discussed efficient ways to use the resources available.
She alo introduced NAMI board member, Heath Martin.
"I'm fairly new to the board and new to the community, but quite often I learn about what a difference NAMI makes in the lives of many people in our community," Martin said. "You also know we have a lot of work yet to do."
He told the crowd the NAMI chapter usually raises about $25,000 per year for its operating budget, but White has set a goal of raising $50,000 in the coming year. The higher amount will enable the chapter to sponsor more programs and help more citizens. In Seneca County, donations to the United Way can be designated for NAMI-SSW.
White also hopes to attract more volunteers and have someone in the office to answer the phone, rather than depending on voice mail. Martin said callers may be concerned and need to talk to a real person. Martin and White passed out pledge cards for those willing to make donations. White also asked for volunteers to help her campaign for passage of the mental health levy in Sandusky County.
More information can be found at www.namissw.org or by calling (888) 582-8889.