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Establish a NAMI Affiliate

Starting a NAMI Mississippi Affiliate

Where do you begin?

How do You Begin to Connect with Families Just Like Yours?

First…Contact NAMI Mississippi, 601-899-9058 to learn about other local NAMI groups in your area.  Such groups can be invaluable in telling you the “nuts and bolts” of organizing, and some members may be able to come and speak to your group.

Next…Your Community Mental Health Center, psychosocial center, state hospital, or other providers of service can be helpful.  While confidentiality may restrict the service providers from giving you the names of interested families, these agencies might be willing to display your group’s brochure and/or give your name and telephone number to other families.

Then…You may want to prepare a brief letter address to other families and ask agencies to circulate it.  You may also wish to put a notice in libraries, grocery stores, church letters or church bulletin boards, agricultural extension office bulletin boards, and wherever else people go.  You can put notices in the neighborhood section of the local newspaper.  Self-help clearinghouses are also an excellent source for contacts.

And…You may wish to begin with the Family-to-Family education program.  This is a 12-week course for families of individuals with serious and persistent mental illness.  NAMI Mississippi already has trained family educators in many areas of the state.  Information on the Family-to-Family education program can be obtained by contacting the NAMI Mississippi State Office at 601-899-9058

Finally…Once you have found a small nucleus of interested people (five is the minimum required) you have an adequate core to start your NAMI group on its way.  Call them together for a first Meeting.

Assess Your Personal Situation

This is an essential step because it will help you avoid getting in over your head.  Examine your motivation for starting an affiliate.  This will help you decide what kinds of options you want to look at (i.e., a low-key support group versus an ambitious issue-oriented group) as well as clarify what your role will be.  This important step may spare you major problems later.

Questions to Consider in Making Your Personal Assessment

Q:    Why do I want to start a group?

A:   The following reasons for forming a local affiliate will provide a sound basis for your planning decisions:

  • To help myself and others through mutual support.
  • To pool resources and talents with others to improve services for people with mental illnesses and their families.
  • To build an organization with enough clout to be effective in advocating for people with mental illness.
  • To end the loneliness I feel with no one to talk to who understands the problems of coping with serious mental illness.
  • To address the need for an advocacy/support group in a community where no such group exists or where the current group is not effective or accessible.

Q:    Do I have the self-confidence to delegate tasks as well as share leadership?  If not, how can I deal with those issues so that I can still be effective?

A:   Find a co-leader and be forthright about your concerns.

Q:    Am I open to the ideas of others, or am I threatened when someone brings up a different approach or appears to want to share leadership?

A:   Try to be open about these feelings and strive to resolve them over time.  The group may help.

Q:    Am I comfortable enough to handle leading meetings?  Can I handle possible surprises that can occur (i.e., distraught person showing up at a meeting or people remaining silent)?

A:    If you have the ability to listen, to encourage others to talk, and a positive, practical outlook on coping with mental illness; if you do not feel the need to control or dominate a meeting, and you do not feel the need to solve every problem or “save” everyone…you will do just fine!!

The bottom line: Be clear about your reasons.  This shouldn’t be “your” baby.  The most productive approach will be one in which you wish to share leadership with others who feel the same needs.

Your First Planned Meeting

  1. It is often better to meet in a person’s home, the library, or a public meeting room rather than a mental health agency (because some people may be concerned that they are being invited to a “therapy” session).  Sometimes meeting places are offered by mental health agencies or other organizations.  While it may prove helpful to accept these offers (e.g., free meeting space, mailings, stationary, copies and telephones, etc.) a group invariably gives up part of its autonomy and independent decision-making power.  Even though the initial start-up may be more difficult, groups that depend on their own members to develop the organization usually become stronger in the end.
  2. At the first meeting, have a greeter at the door.  When the meeting begins, have people introduce and tell a bit about themselves.  This gives everyone an opportunity to share their experiences with mental illness and may encourage some who are dealing with difficult issues for the first time.  This may take a little time, but it is important to allow for it.
  3. Next, encourage people to identify some of the problems they faced in getting help for themselves and their loved ones.  Suggest that the group begin thinking about what action can be taken to improve the situation.
  4. Select a name for your group.   The name can identify the city, county, or town from where you originate.  The name must, however, begin with NAMI (e.g., NAMI ANYWHERETOWN)
  5. Once the group is established, begin planning a minimum structure for your group.  The group should select individuals or ask for volunteers to serve as the group’s officers and other positions: president, contact (i.e., the person/family willing to serve as a contact name and number for use on the national 800 Helpline), secretary, treasurer, and membership chair.  Try to get at least one volunteer to put out a simple newsletter (one-page will do to start).  This will help bond your members together and is a convenient way to remind them of meetings or other opportunities to work toward goals.  Sending it to decision-makers such as mental health administrators, doctors, legislators, other pertinent social service agency directors, and educators also serves to let them know you are there and to tell them what services should be available.  You might also ask them to contribute articles on research developments, medications, group tips, health care, local services available, etc.
  6. Plan to meet on a regular basis. You may need to meet once or twice a month, at least until the organization is underway.
  7. Pass the hat for funds.  Contributions are necessary to pay for such expenses as postage, paper, copying, telephone, a post office box, etc.  Your membership dues will also help with expenses.
  8. A membership roster is generally passed around at the first meeting so that everyone can sign their names, phone numbers, spouse information where relevant and addresses.  A copy of the roster is given to everyone before they leave if possible.  Otherwise send copies of the roster to each attendee as soon as you can make copies.  Your special network has started and support for one another can begin across the telephone wires even before the next meeting.

What Happens Next?

In your next several planning meetings, you will want to attend to a variety of tasks that will launch your organization.  The order in which you do them may vary according to your needs and the availability of individuals to do them.  You will want to:

Plan a first general meeting for families and other interested people in the community. One of the best ways to do this is to sponsor an educational meeting with a special program and speakers.
Prepare an inexpensive brochure that you can circulate widely so that others may know about you.  The NAMI Mississippi State Office can assist with this.
Begin writing a simple newsletter to keep your members informed.  Send copies to NAMI Mississippi, and if you wish, exchange newsletters with other NAMI Mississippi affiliates.
Establish essential committees with a designated chair: newsletter, fundraising, publicity, media watch, membership, legislation, etc.
Contact NAMI Mississippi for a packet of information on tax exempt status, incorporation, bylaws and membership forms.  In addition, you will receive assistance in all steps of organizing an affiliate.
Join NAMI at both the state and national levels.  This is important in soliciting businesses, foundations, etc. for money and for the contributions of your members to be tax deductible.
A first project of some new groups is to assemble a list of resources for people with mental illness in your area.

Benefits of NAMI Membership

  1. Contact with and support of other families who face similar issues.
  2. Educational opportunities–Family-to-Family, Peer to Peer training and groups; lending library–books, videos, tapes, educational presentations.
  3. Advocacy at the local, state and national level for needed treatment, housing, jail diversion, employment training and health care provided through one, nationally recognized and respected voice.
  4. Information on treatment options and community services available.
  5. An informative quarterly newsletter, the NAMI Mississippi Stateline, and the NAMI Advocate, that keeps members up-to-date on a variety of issues.
  6. 800 information line.

The NAMI Mississippi State Office Can Assist You With:

  • Advertising suggestions
  • Suggestions for organizing your affiliate meetings
  • How to deal with an affiliate member in crisis
  • Establishing a bond with your members
  • Guiding the Meeting with educational speakers
  • Establishing a support group
  • How and when to hold your business meeting

Remember to contact NAMI Mississippi for more information and assistance on establishing your affiliate.

It is recommended that your Steering Committee have between four to six members. You should select individuals who are willing to dedicate their time and efforts toward establishing your NAMI Affiliate. It may be helpful to select people who are team players and those who have experience in areas such as leadership, fundraising, communications, education, etc. We also suggest that you try to include individuals who have personal connections to mental illness and/or a familiarity with NAMI. Make sure expectations are clear from the start. Though there are no term limits for Steering Committee members at this time, we suggest you ask for between one to three years of commitment from these individuals — enough time for your group to progress through at least two of the stages of organizational development.

Target Areas:
Central MS • Tupelo • Southaven • Gulf Coast • Starkville • MS Delta • Yazoo City

Contact: stateoffice@namims.org

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