by Emily Ostrowski
At YWCA Clark County we are proud to have staff and volunteers who seek to get involved in our community, both at work and in their spare time. On May 20th several CASA staff members gave back by participating in the NAMIWalks Northwest 5k Event in Portland.
For those who aren’t familiar, NAMI stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Established in 1979, NAMI, according to their website, “is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.” Each year they hosts walks to raise awareness and funds for NAMI branches across the country.
Kelli Burgad, Program Specialist for Clark County CASA organized the walk, initially as a team-building activity for CASA staff. The “CASA Crew”, as they called themselves, consisted of 18 participants, six of which were CASA staff. Several others donated to the team, and in total they raised $2,150!
Burgad recognizes the wide array of people affected by mental illness, and was motivated to participate in the walk and support NAMI specifically because they offer free services that can be of help to low income families who are suffering. She also sees the ways in which mental health, as well as lack of access to mental health services, affects the children and families she sees at Clark County CASA.
“Mental illness is a significant part of the work we do with CASA,” said Burgad. “Kids we work with often experience mental illness brought on by trauma, genetics, and life experiences. We also see parents who suffer with mental illness that has brought them to a place of legal trouble due to neglecting, abusing, or abandoning their children.”
In addition to financial burdens, Burgad also sees the continuing stigma around mental illness as a big hurdle towards people seeking help. From CASA Crew’s official NAMIWalks Team Page she writes:
Mental Health issues have been a taboo in past history, but times are slowly changing as we become more educated through science and medicine that mental health is a sickness and treatable just like being diabetic. Individuals don’t have to suffer alone, but there continues to be a great need for understanding and acceptance of mental illness in our communities.
She also appreciates the connection between the missions of NAMI and YWCA Clark County. “Both are very similar in their commitment to a better community and helping others in need that suffer from stigma and discrimination,” said Burgad. “They each provide education to the community to eliminate discrimination and advocate for change.”
Though this was her first year participating, Burgad fully plans to organize another walk next year for anyone in the community who wants to join. She’s already got a name picked out:
Click here to see more pictures from the walk.