The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 28, 2013

NAMI office closing

Mental health support agency cites lack of funds

Tom Lavis
tlavis@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — The local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is closing its doors effective Monday.

NAMI Cambria County, a nonprofit organization located at 240 Vine St. in downtown Johnstown, has provided free support and education, and

advocated on behalf of individuals and families affected by mental illness for 28 years.

The problem boils down to lack of money.

“Despite the generosity of local funding organizations that provide grant money for specific programs, we have been unable to recover from the significant loss of income that sustained our basic operations,” said Jean Sobecky, NAMI Cambria County president.

Until January 2011, the organization had been largely funded by the county to provide NAMI services and programs and to run a drop-in center for adults with mental illness.

When the drop-in center became a nonprofit itself, titled the Peer Empowerment Network (PEN),  funding was redirected to support PEN’s role.

“With about $110,00 redirected from us, NAMI can’t sustain the building, staff or programs without that funding,” Sobecky said.

She said NAMI offers all of its services for free.

“Unlike other organizations, we do not generate income from the work we do,” Sobecky said. “Our fundraising efforts have been very successful, but not sufficient to maintain an office and staff.”

NAMI worked to educate the community to increase awareness, dispel stigma, confront discrimination and provide numerous seminars, conferences and special presentations that brought expert speakers on mental illness to the area.

“My biggest concerns are for the families of our consumers because the county is not known as we are for supporting family members to maneuver through the system once someone has been diagnosed with mental illness.”

NAMI has been trying to sell its building since late September for $29,000.

“We dropped the price to $19,900 and had an open house Sunday and no one showed up,” Sobecky said.

At the national level, NAMI is part of Vice President Joe Biden’s task force developed in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“In the aftermath of events like this that ignite fear and concern about people with mental illness and stir questions about the integrity of the mental health system, it is unfortunate to not be part of the important dialogue that should be happening here on a local level,” said Wendy Stewart, former executive director of NAMI Cambria County.

“While tragedies of this magnitude shake us to our core, they also awaken us to the need for change. Sadly, as those who know what it’s like to encounter the pitfalls of the mental health system, NAMI’s organized voice is needed more than ever right now.”

Stewart said she and other NAMI board members met Monday with PEN network to offer the organization a gift of the Vine Street building for $1.

Nothing was resolved at the meeting.

”If not Peer Empowerment, then we would be willing to gift the building to another community nonprofit,” Stewart said.

NAMI Cambria County represented the unified voice of concerned citizens on numerous community boards both locally and at the state level, working and often partnering within cross-systems to improve care, quality of life and outcomes for people with mental illness.

The Laurel Highlands Region Police Crisis Intervention Team is one such program that began as a local NAMI initiative to divert individuals with mental illness away from the criminal justice system and into more appropriate treatment.

Among other positive changes, the organization had long advocated for mental health courts and worked to increase understanding of veterans’ issues and is heartened to see the establishment of a Veterans Court for Cambria County.

NAMI notified its membership of the impending closure in December.

The organization will retain its 501c3 nonprofit status for a period of time and continue to hold a monthly volunteer-run support group with the hope that it may one day be able to resume operations in full.

“We most likely will look for a church to conduct such support groups,” Sobecky said. “Ironically, that’s how NAMI started nearly 30 years ago and we are going back to the basics.”

 

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