The National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Washington has undergone big changes this year.
Kim Schneiderman replaced Peggy McCarthy earlier this year as executive director of the region’s NAMI affiliate, and its offices moved from East Mill Plain Boulevard into the heart of downtown Vancouver at 2500 Main St., Suite 120.
McCarthy served as executive director for six years before Schneiderman succeeded her. Schneiderman has experience as board president for the local nonprofit as well as NAMI Oregon, and has been active in NAMI for 18 years.
The location changes are tied to a desire for increased visibility, Schneiderman said. NAMI’s office is located in the same building as the Vancouver Housing Authority and Council for the Homeless, which Schneiderman said brings a “real synergy” to their building.
“It’s forced us to move out into the community with a lot of our stuff, which is really what I wanted to do,” Schneiderman said. “I wanted to go to people, instead of people coming to us. It’s kind of in the midst of stuff. It reminds me of my days of working in downtown Portland, where there’s an energy going on.”
While the new office is located in Vancouver, Schneiderman said the plan is to ramp up support groups in other areas, including Camas and Battle Ground, so NAMI can reach more people. She also said she wants more group sessions offered in the evening, so people with work can make them.
“We’re missing so many people who really need the help,” she said.
Schneiderman said she’s big on relationships and partnerships, and she wants to create programming that will overlap with local businesses. She said she wants to decrease discrimination against those with mental illness and hopes to “help employers recognize the fact that their employees might be dealing with anxiety or depression or loved ones who have mental health issues.”
Schneiderman said NAMI can show those employers how to best support their employees when it comes to mental health. Schneiderman said she wants to shift NAMI toward more donation and sponsorship funding, as opposed to grant funding.
“I personally believe the grants will begin to dry up more,” she said. “Grants, everybody needs them, but everybody wants to give money for something new and innovative, and I get that. We need new and innovative. You need to be able to pay for what you currently do if it’s working, too. I want to expand on the community sponsorships and donations, especially if we’re going to be helping businesses in keeping their employees with them.”
Talking about it
Schneiderman said her favorite part of the job has been getting to meet NAMI staff and volunteers, saying that the latter “is what really makes it all work” at NAMI through leading groups, answering phones and teaching classes.
The biggest need for mental health care in the county is long-term treatment housing, Schneiderman said. She said she thinks mental health is important to local officials, and that important conversations are being had, which is a step in the right direction.
“It is a conversation everywhere, which is different,” Schneiderman said. “I think people are recognizing that stigma exists and they are talking about mental health right now more than they ever have in the past. I think Clark County and Southwest Washington are recognizing it as something that needs to be handled well. I’m hearing that from the government and other agencies, and that’s important. People are chatting about it. We need it out in the open. It’s got to be talked about.”
Get in touch with NAMI
What: National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Washington.
Address: 2500 Main St., Suite 120, Vancouver.