I came to NAMI Rochester not knowing what they really had to offer. I arrived with a mental illness and as a family member. I volunteered in many different programs such as In Our Own Voice and Connections and attended support groups. I benefited from this experience and helped others in the same situation. This is how I came to understand all that NAMI Rochester has to offer.
I was asked to join the Board and accepted. I saw it as another opportunity to help the organization. I stayed on and served in many Board positions, until I became President. I found it refreshing and inspiring that we had an individual living with a mental illness serving in a leadership role. One of our strengths is that we truly offer and care for both family members and individuals living with a mental illness.
In short, I did not know why I initially came. After receiving help and support in so many ways, I stayed on so that I could hold the door open for and help all those touched by a mental illness. I have been made the better for it and enjoy being part of the NAMI Rochester family.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
ANNE SMITH, LMSW
I came to NAMI in 2001, while I was completing my field office curriculum as a graduate student. I was trying to find resources for my clients who were dealing with mental illness. I contacted Pat Sine at NAMI Rochester and I left the first meeting, completely amazed at how much the organization offers to families and individuals affected by mental illness. I knew then, that I always wanted to be a part of NAMI Rochester in some way and immediately joined as a member. Personally, I have a brother with a dual diagnosis and it was recommended that I attend the NAMI Family-to-Family 12-week class. Once again, I was completely impressed with the content of the material offered in this class and the fact that the course is taught by trained family members who have had similar experiences to mine.
Upon graduation, I began working in the field of mental health and also became a volunteer at NAMI Rochester. I volunteered in Mental Health Court, NAMI Walks, and the annual Jessica Henderson Memorial Event. Even with those activities, I continued to feel that I could do more and be more involved. When I was approached by the President of the NAMI Board of Directors and was asked to become a member of the board of the Board of Directors, I immediately accepted!
It has been a privilege and an honor to serve on the board, and I will continue to promote and support NAMI Rochester in any way that I am able.
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.
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.