Dealing with mental illness in your family can be a very isolating experience. When I started looking for resources for our child, it was also overwhelming and frightening. We were a long way into our journey before we discovered NAMI and the support it can offer. I felt like we’d really missed out when we needed help the most. Serendipitously, I was asked to join the board and start a marketing committee. I’ve now completed the Family-to-Family class, helping me to experience firsthand the education, understanding and support NAMI can offer. I’m excited to help spread the message about NAMI through our marketing efforts in order to bring hope to more people dealing with mental illness.
I have an MBA and am retired after a 33 year career in Human Resource management at Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. Wegmans influenced and supported my involvement in NAMI through its commitment to making a difference in our community. NAMI programs and services are critically important to the mentally ill and their family members. NAMI provides hope to people with nowhere to turn and connects people to appropriate resources. NAMI events and activities help to fight stigma and encourage understanding of those with mental illness, so desperately needed in our community, state and country today. I wholeheartedly support NAMI’s mission of support, education and advocacy.
I grew up on Long Island, New York, attended university at Columbia, and ultimately served as managing general partner of a New York City hedge fund. Then I chose to leave the world of finance to raise a family. My wife Leah and I came to Rochester almost thirty years ago; we raised our three children here, and I busied myself teaching Law and Finance at the University at Buffalo.
Like so many families, ours found NAMI in a time of crisis. I suffered a major depressive episode in 2014, and a friend suggested that my wife look at the Family to Family Education Program. Ultimately Leah and I both took the twelve-week program, and it had a profound positive impact on our lives.
So profound was that impact that I felt compelled to "pay it forward." I trained as a presenter in NAMI's "IOOV" ("In Our Own Voice") program, and have been speaking regularly to groups of people who are going through experiences so similar to mine and who so welcome a message of support and hope.
When an opportunity to serve on the board was discussed with me, I jumped at the chance. My family and I were lucky to have found NAMI at the right time. I know that many others do not make that connection when they need it most. I'm dedicated to bringing NAMI's gift of education, advocacy and support to as many individuals and families as we can reach.
Cynthia A. Constantino
I am Mom to a child I was told would never graduate from high school, let alone college. I was told he was lazy and anti-social, and he was beginning to believe that himself. After 4 years of struggling with and for him, trying to get him help and treatment, confronting teachers who didn’t understand him, and crying way too many tears, my bright, kind, compassionate son was finally diagnosed with severe OCD, and placed in intense treatment. Our family was incredibly fortunate, as he responded to the treatment, returned to high school, graduated with honors, and went on to graduate from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Computer engineering. His OCD isn’t “cured”, but he’s learned to manage it, and to live a great life despite it. It’s made him who he is today. He makes me proud every day.
I know our story is not unique, and the outcome is not typical. We often fail to recognize mental illness, and families often lack not only understanding, but also the resources required to diagnose and treat mental illness. I am motivated to help promote knowledge and understanding, as well as compassion and support for individuals and families.
In addition to my personal experience with mental health issues, I am an attorney practicing primarily with the Monroe County treatment courts, which include Drug treatment, Mental health, and Veteran’s courts. My role is not limited to providing legal counsel to the court, but includes coordinating an educational program for treatment court participants, who often struggle in the public school environment. In this role, I have worked with a wide range of students, each of whom is in some way connected to the court system. I am excited to work to help remove the stigma associated with mental illness, and to help provide encouragement and hope to individuals through education, services, and support.
I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and the Rochester Prevention Research Center: National Center for Deaf Health Research. My research is focused on suicide prevention with deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) communities. I also provide consultation on forensic psychological cases focused on D/HH issues. I am a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and LMHC supervisor. I have provided clinical services and developed clinical and community programs with D/HH individuals and their families for more than 12 years.
The inspiration that led me to NAMI Rochester and has continued to expand and deepen my involvement comes from my professional and personal experiences. I was first connected to NAMI Rochester for a professional project. I was drawn to NAMI Rochester for my project because it is a ‘tiny but mighty’ organization with an amazing community doing great things in the larger Rochester community. When settled in Rochester, staying involved with NAMI Rochester was very important to me. I continue to draw my motivation from my closeness with patients and their families as well as my own family members and close friends. I chair the Underserved Populations Committee which is guiding NAMI Rochester in making its amazing services and resources accessible to the D/HH community. As a family member of a sibling with mental illness, I am honored to serve on NAMI Rochester’s Board of Directors and committees.
Early on in our family’s journey with mental illness, to be quite honest, we did not know what on earth we were doing. We didn’t understand the complexity or the behaviors that (at times) came with it. We looked to the ‘hospitals’ to fix our loved one. Our belief was quite simple…sick people go to the hospital…they get better…life is good!
In 2005, I was introduced to the NAMI Family-to-Family education class. If you read any literature about it, you will see an accurate description of what I experienced. The vast amount of information presented challenged everything (I thought) I knew. The class became a safe place where I gained insight, empathy and empowerment based upon factual information on mental illness, medications, crisis intervention, accessing the mental health system and self-care.
One of the best sayings I have ever heard came from NAMI: You don’t know what no one has ever told you!
What NAMI told me is that I am a valuable member of my loved one’s recovery team! The reason I was drawn to serve on the NAMI Board is because I believe that family members, with education and support, can be an important member of their loved one’s recovery team as well. I will continue to support the work that NAMI does to strengthen families and communities.
I came to NAMI with a serious mental illness, looking for a life purpose, which I hadn’t yet found. I also lost a few people to suicide and decided on a life-long mission of mental health advocacy. I immediately began volunteering with NAMI doing little things, and I started to notice a change. I began telling my story through NAMI’s Ending the Silence (ETS) Program.
Ever since, I’ve had the privilege of sharing my story through ETS, but also through social media and other platforms. This sparked a lot of conversation and opened many doors for people who were hesitant to talk about their mental illness. I get a few messages each day from strangers asking about NAMI. Sharing your story empowers you, those around you, and helps to erase stigma.
In June of 2018, I was honored to receive the national Young Leader Award for NAMI, and I am proud to represent NAMI Rochester. I am involved with NAMI NYS as well and have the privilege of speaking at events, panels, legislative advocacy days, and more.
When I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors for NAMI Rochester, I was so honored. This is not something I thought I could accomplish at 21 years old living with a mental illness. I can truly say that NAMI gave me back my life, guided me into recovery and changed my life immensely.
My involvement with NAMI ROC arises from my interest in human behavior. I’ve observed that mental illness is highly stigmatized, even in our society in the 21st century, and I want to work towards improvement of the public and government’s perceptions of mental illness.
My objective is to use my business skills to assist NAMI ROC. I am self employed as a business advisor and executive coach. With my management consulting practice, Human Capital Strategy Partners, I provide business services to corporate clients. I retired from Xerox where I was Vice President for global human resources in Worldwide Manufacturing. Prior to Xerox, I had served as Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Pennsylvania and Vice President & General Manager of Exide Batteries in Puerto Rico.
Born and raised in Cuba, I have a B.A. in Psychology and M.Ed. in Counseling from the University of Delaware. I have authored two career development books and I have written over 130 business columns for Gannett Media. In the community I served three terms on the YMCA, Pittsford, NY, Board of Management and have also served on the Board of the United Way in Pennsylvania, and in two churches as an Elder and Deacon.
NAMI Rochester is a vibrant, growing organization with many dedicated staff and volunteers serving the needs of thousands of families affected by mental illness. I want to use my business experience and insights to help NAMI ROC achieve its objectives with its constituents.
Sandra Mitzner, MD
I was drawn to serve on the board of NAMI through both personal and professional experience. Both have taught me that respect, hope, personal empowerment and peer and family support are critical elements of recovery and that is what I believe NAMI offers. NAMI’s signature programs are extremely well developed. They offer current, scientifically grounded information regarding mental health conditions as well as invaluable information regarding community resources delivered in an atmosphere of compassionate peer support. NAMI is truly a grassroots organization that ensures that the most important voices are heard.
My association with NAMI Rochester began when a very dear friend, who was at that time President of the Board, asked me to volunteer in support of the organization’s fundraising efforts. I gained a rudimentary understanding of NAMI Rochester’s mission and educational offerings thanks to our friendship and my involvement on the Development Committee. When our oldest daughter could no longer cope with her mental illness, her symptoms and behaviors became severe and frightening and ultimately the illness came startlingly close to taking her life. But thankfully, she survived. And because of her indomitable spirit, her steely determination and, most importantly her unshakable commitment to do the incredibly hard work required every day to support her mental well-being, she is in recovery. I volunteer with, advocate for and financially support NAMI Rochester to honor my daughter and to share knowledge, provide understanding, offer empathy and to say, in a clear and strong voice, to all those whose lives are affected by mental illness that stigma and stereotypes about these brain disorders are unacceptable, that you must never abandon hope and that recovery is possible.
Khadijah B. Muhammad
I was most recently employed as the Director of Critical Care at the Villa of Hope campus residential program. Over the years, I have acquired abilities through academia (completing my Masters degree in Forensic Social Work) as well as experience in community organizations to promote and practice evidence based care. I have written court reports, testified at hearings/criminal proceedings, facilitated groups, conducted intake interviews, forensic interviews, psycho-social assessments, CANS assessments, domestic violence assessments, and safety assessments. I have supervised safety planning, advocacy planning, family planning, and treatment/discharge planning work. These practices support other behavioral interventions, and skill building which can help to address individual’s needs. I have provided support services at just about every level of an individual's ecological system and have a strong sense of culturally competent approaches. I am passionate about building and maintaining relationships that protect the rights of individuals attempting to navigate through life.
I have served as a member of a Race and Inclusion work-group, as well as a representative on Community Policy Management and Family Assessment Planning teams. I have a resilient belief in strength based driven care, possess a natural ability to see strengths in others, and to build upon those strengths. I have come to understand the monumental importance of the family unit in the development of self, as well as the supports of the community at large in regards to awareness of service accessibility and delivery. I have experienced mental illness first hand both personally through family members and professionally through service delivery. I feel as a member of the NAMI board I may have an opportunity to continue to assist in bridging the gaps, building trust, understanding, and awareness that can empower communities as a whole. I am truly honored for consideration to serve on NAMI Rochester's Board of Directors and committees.
Mary Jo Muscolino
I have worked in the health care for my entire professional career. While in nursing school it became clear to me that mental wellness is a significant factor in overall wellness. From that point forward I focused my attention on the overall health of individuals while working as a mental health provider. Through my growing knowledge base as a professional I became aware of mental health issues that existed in both my immediate and extended family. My career choice had now become a personal quest for knowledge and skills to assist me in dealing with feelings and thoughts that were extremely close to home. Through a family member involved with NAMI, I learned about the need to practice self-care in order to be able to help others. I also grew to understand the healing that occurs hearing other’s stories that are much like your own. NAMI offers families and individuals the information, skill building and camaraderie that break down the feelings of isolation and helplessness and supports inclusiveness and hope. Professionals can provide information but peers bring the heart and soul of true wellness. This is what NAMI does best!
Mary Jo Newcomb
For the past 3 years, I have worked at the Older Adults Clinic of UR Mental Health and Wellness. I also currently work in the UR Office of Mental Health Promotion working on various projects to help connect with our community partners, educate the community and decrease the stigma of mental illness. I am also an adjunct clinical instructor in Mental Health at the St. John Fisher College Wegmans School of Nursing.
Throughout my 38 years in nursing, my passion has always been helping people who are struggling with mental health issues. For over 25 years, I was committed to helping our youth and families while working on 4-9000, the inpatient mental health unit, and in the Child and Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Program at Strong.
My commitment to NAMI is motivated by both my personal and professional lives. I have family members who have experienced mental health issues including a brother who died by suicide in 1984. I have referred numerous people to NAMI and have more closely witnessed NAMI's impact in the past 3 years while organizing Strong's Mental Health and Wellness teams for the NAMI walk and implementing with NAMI volunteers NAMI's Intro to Family to Family groups for the inpatient units, now being held at the Adult Partial Hospitalization Program
I am honored to serve on NAMI's Board and hope to help further NAMI's mission by educating, leading, advocating and most importantly listening to our community stakeholders.
I have family members with mental illness — most notably, one has schizophrenia and another has alcohol use disorder and depression. I also had the opportunity to work in a clinical psychiatric setting when I was in pharmacy school; since that time I have developed a passion for people who experience mental illness and enjoy giving back by serving at NAMI Rochester. I first became involved with the organization when I moved to the area in 2014 and took the Family to Family course.
In 2010, while searching for answers, seeking opportunities to educate myself and other family members, I reached out to NAMI Rochester as a lifeline to learn how best to support a family member living with a mental health diagnosis. We had been struggling for three years and finally contacted Pat Sine at Rochester NAMI to sign up for the BASICS class. Immediately we found hope, for our loved one, for ourselves, and answers to so many questions that allowed us to breathe and move forward out the place we had been stuck. We continued with Family-to-Family and as I moved into advocacy, I signed up to be a teacher for BASICS and then Family-to-Family, lastly becoming a Family-to-Family Support Facilitator.
The positive impact of what I learned in NAMI quickly began spilling over into my professional life as a special education teacher and eventually, into the communities where I work and live. As I continued as a volunteer and an advocate for NAMI, it became imperative to me to pay forward all that I have gained through my affiliation as NAMI, and becoming a board member was a natural marrying of my profession, my passion and my belief in the power of peer advocacy offered through NAMI.
I am currently Vice President of Programs at East House, serving adults in recovery from mental health and/or substance use disorders. I have been a psychiatric social worker for over 25 years working in WV, MD and NY in various capacities including inpatient psychiatry, partial hospitalization, outpatient mental health and chemical dependency counseling, care management, peer services and residential care. In addition, I am chair of Partners for Suicide Prevention, a newly formed coalition that promotes existing resources in Monroe County.
I have long respected the work of NAMI Rochester and have participated in past events such as NAMI Walks and the Annual Dinner. In addition, being a Penfield resident with two high school students, I have seen the great work NAMI has done in the high school. I am honored to serve on NAMI Rochester’s Board of Directors and I especially look forward to exploring the alignment of NAMI Rochester with Partners for Suicide Prevention.
I was drawn to NAMI-Rochester through my work as a police officer, and more so as a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) member and as the Crisis Intervention Team Coordinator for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. I have referred many families to NAMI- Rochester for support and received wonderful feedback. I have also experienced first-hand NAMI-Rochester’s support and guidance for law enforcement and the community at large, including under-served communities, so I consider being a part of NAMI- Rochester an opportunity to learn from others who are making a positive impact on mental health and our community at large.
I am invested personally and professionally in issues affecting people who suffer from mental illness and their loved ones. NAMI-Rochester has been a truly collaborative resource that I encourage my colleagues, as well as those suffering from mental illness or managing a relationship with a person who has a mental illness, to refer to, utilize, and stay involved with.
We have seen tremendous growth in partnership and collaboration between mental health organizations, law enforcement, and care providers during the last decade. It is my intention to continue to facilitate this alliance, which is so important to effectively combatting stigma, misinformation, and confusion. NAMI-Rochester is the perfect grass-roots, peer-to-peer organization to learn from and facilitate this to occur.
Former Board President, 2017-2019
I have a Master of Arts degree in Applied Forensic Psychology and have spent the majority of my career working the criminal justice system in one capacity or another. I have had the distinct privilege to have spent many years navigating the intersection of mental health services and the criminal justice system. The Monroe County Mental Health Court has had a longstanding partnership with NAMI Rochester. As the Coordinator of the Mental Health Court I have experienced firsthand the power of a NAMI Rochester connection for an individual or family member in need of support. The consistent advocacy and life-changing programs that are offered by the NAMI Rochester staff and volunteers are an invaluable support to the individuals and family members in the Mental Health Court. I have had the privilege of participating in numerous NAMI Rochester events and marvel at NAMI Rochester’s commitment to improving the wellness of individuals, families, and communities in the Greater Rochester area. I was drawn to become a member of the NAMI Rochester Board of Directors out of a shared commitment to bettering our community one life at a time. I am compelled to offer my support to an incredibly worthy agency doing amazing work in our community. We are better together.