NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness)
has over 600 local affiliates throughout the United States that “provide advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.” In November 2023, NAMI Blue Water Area Michigan
in St. Clair County joined those 600 local affiliates across the country.
Tori Ferres, an attorney for Port Huron’s Fletcher Fealko Shoudy & Francis, P.C.
law firm, is the president of the new NAMI affiliate. Ferres has knowledge of the effect of mental illness on families.
“My mom has a mental illness. So, I went to law school because I wanted to give back and try to help people understand the mental health system,” says Ferres. “It was too much for me to do full-time while in my practice, but I still wanted to help people out in that area because I have a lot of knowledge on the mental health system, the court system, and how those interact. NAMI is the perfect fit for me to volunteer in that way.”
NAMI is a grassroots organization operating at three levels
: nationally, at the state level, and through local NAMI affiliates. In order to grow local affiliates, individuals like Ferres are needed to volunteer to create communities where people can help and find support for living with mental illness.
“The state and the national organizations do more advocating for certain laws, training, and things like that,” says Ferres. “Our goal with the local community is to do programming to educate people about mental illness, especially families with family members with mental illness. Family members really have no support … so our goal is to be the place that gives those family members education, help, or even just someone to talk to in the local community.”
Some programs the new affiliate is working to facilitate are the peer-to-peer program
and the family-to-family
program. The peer-to-peer program
is a support group for people with mental illness facilitated by people with mental illness. St. Clair County’s eight-week peer-to-peer program
will begin on Jan. 30, 2024.
“Our trainers are people who identify as a person with mental illness,” Ferres says. “They’re going to be working to provide a peer-to-peer support group.”
Once trainers receive the required training from NAMI’s national and state level, other programs like the family-to-family program and the veterans’ program, NAMI Homefront,
will be available for people to join.
Debra JohnsonSt. Clair County Community Mental Health (SCCCMH)
has played a significant role in creating more awareness about NAMI Blue Water Area Michigan. Debra Johnson, the CEO of SCCMH, utilizes Port Huron’s streaming TV station, Thumb Coast.TV
to inform the community on aspects of mental health, exercise, and new things the CMH is offering with a broadcast called Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies
“Word-of-mouth is going to be the most helpful way to get the word out that we’re out there,” Ferres says. “Deb has been really helpful with that by getting us set up to appear in the media.”
NAMI Blue Water Area Michigan volunteers have a monthly meeting
at 4:30 p.m. every third Tuesday at the SCCCMH auditorium, 3111 Electric Ave., Port Huron. They discuss what steps need to be taken to grow the affiliate. The first meeting took place on Jan. 20.
“At the last meeting, we created a chart [showing] where everyone's going to volunteer,” Ferres says. “Volunteers are going to start taking our flyers out, hopefully have personal conversations with people that they know, and go to other nonprofits around the area with flyers to advertise and educate people on the new affiliate.”
Open to the public, a first fundraising event will be held at the Port Huron Prowlers
hockey game on March 15. Raffles and games will help raise funds for the programs. Many people from the community have already donated to the new NAMI affiliate. Ferres hopes to raise enough funding to kick-start the programs.
“It’s baby steps, but we will be really proud to have our first program running in the next year,” she says. “That will be a big success for us right now.”
To learn more about NAMI or to support the NAMI Blue Water Area Michigan, email BlueWaterNAMI@gmail.com
. Those living outside of the Thumb area can find information about NAMI activities in their area at NAMI-Michigan
Monique Bedford is an aspiring journalist, currently freelancing for Issue Media Group publications. She graduated from Oakland University in fall of 2022 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. Monique has experience in solutions journalism, media design, and hosting a radio show. When she's not writing, you can always find her studying different cultures and languages, reading her favorite newspaper, The New York Times, and spending quality time with her friends and family.
NAMI photos courtesy NAMI Blue Water Area
Debra Johnson photo courtesy St. Clair County Community Mental Health
Family photo by Agung Pandit Wiguna via Pexels.com
The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.