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January, 2007

Grassroots Strategy: Focus on Caregiving Ministries

By Carlene Byron, NAMI member

editors note: This program is no longer offered and the article has been modified to remove contact information.

Here in Wake County, North Carolina, some of us are taking a "sideways" approach to entering congregations.

While we are available for Sunday school talks and so forth, we are focusing on training church caregiving ministries to give more effective care to people with mental illness and their families.

These people--Stephen Ministers, diaconates, and so forth--are already committed to caregiving as a primary form of service within the church but often feel unequal to the task of helping congregants challenged by their own or their relative's mental illness.

We have piloted a two-hour training course for congregational caregivers in two churches (one Methodist, one Presbyterian) and have been asked back to provide a five-hour workshop, in concert with a local counseling center, open to the entire 500-member Presbyterian congregation, with other churches invited to attend as well.

Our initial goal--to establish on-going ministries of care in four congregations per year--may have been overambitious for the first year, but it appears this may mushroom quickly. We are encouraging people to draw on the full range of NAMI resources as referrals, of course--from family and peer support groups to Family to Family.

People who have been trained in community organizing, as I have, will recognize the basic strategy underlying this approach: look for the point where a community's felt need is on the path toward your goal and help them meet their need.

You and they then become partners in achieving what begins to become  their goal. So, for example, stigma busting becomes their concern because they are worried about why they don't know (and cannot provide support for) the 1 in 5 members of their congregation who experiences a mental illness.

Anyway, this is just what we are experimenting with in Wake County. We would love to get some other congregations involved in review of or piloting this material.

We have written a full script and have a complete set of handouts. We are revising one section based on feedback, which will probably push the workshop to 2.5 hours.

Carlene and James Byron have been NAMI family educators for six years. Both  have more than one relative with a brain disorder and have served in church or interdenominational leadership for many years. Carlene was trained in Alinsky-method and non-violent direct action organizing in the 1970s.

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