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Growing Outreach Through Faith

By Kathleen Vogtle, NAMI Communications Coordinator

Faith-based outreach and support is one of NAMI’s fastest-growing initiatives. Yet it is also one of the quietest: NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates reaching out to their communities with the promise of resources and refuge. Now, these efforts are receiving care as well.

In 2013, 29 NAMI Affiliates received mini-grants from the Kitchner FAMILY Foundation to expand their faith outreach. NAMI Wood County in Bowling Green, Ohio used these resources to expand their Bridges of Hope program to include the local ecumenical council, the Northwest Ohio Regional Conference of the Catholic Church, which represents 236 faith communities in the County. This three-part PowerPoint presentation is used to create stronger connections and safety nets for people living with serious mental illness in and through faith communities.

I connected with Marcus Jensen, a volunteer with NAMI Wood County, about the impact this increased outreach has had and what plans are in place for the future. Below are the highlights of our conversation.

NAMI Wood County received a Kitchner FAMILY Foundation Grant for our outreach program to local churches and religious organizations. The grant was used to expand our existing FaithNet program to include Bridges of Hope. Previous to the expansion, we were primarily providing information as to what programs we offered to individuals living with mental illness and their families. With the addition of the Bridges of Hope program, we have had an increase in requests for information and individual contact.

After receiving the grant, we asked for volunteers to learn and present the Bridges of Hope program. They undertook training themselves and began making contact with different churches and religious organizations to promote the program. The response was very positive and because there had never been a program of this type offered before. “Word-of-mouth” advertising has gotten very positive results.

The Bridges of Hope program is unique in that it is free and there is no request for financial support of any kind from the religious community. Because the program is free, many smaller and less fiscally sound organizations are interested because they are able to provide needed information to their communities at no cost.

The Bridges of Hope program will be presented to the Northwest Ohio Regional Conference of the Catholic Church in the near future, having been accepted by the planning committee in November. The committee found Bridges of Hope to be an excellent program for their conference and will help provide an even greater number of pastors with resources and information to assist them in their work and provide benefits to their congregations.

NAMI Wood County has included Bridges of Hope in our list of offered programs. Although we are just starting out, it is exciting to see the positive reception it has received and we are looking forward to helping it grow. Then more individuals and organizations will be provided with the services they need to use faith in support those affected by mental illness.

Starting the program is not difficult and maintaining it is simple because new information and support is always available. Once a program is started, developing interest in continuation is easy because there are always so many new and different people to contact who are looking for information. NAMI FaithNet’s Bridges of Hope is a great program to provide NAMI Affiliates and their communities with a wide variety of resources.

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