National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Image Eileen Silber

Eileen Silber was nominated by NAMI North Carolina.  View the nomination letter from NAMI North Carolina. (pdf, opens in new window)

Each board candidate was asked to answer several questions relating to NAMI and the experience they bring to the board.  Each candidate was limited to 300 words for each answer.  Read Eileen's answers below:

NAMI Self-Identification Statement

My husband and I have driven in the middle of the night looking for our son with schizophrenia.  We have searched emergency rooms and night shelters.  We have literally shoveled out apartments.  You can’t know how this feels unless you’ve been there.  The system looks different through a family’s eyes.

Why do you want to serve on the NAMI National board of directors? 

Experience --- my family’s experience with mental illness, my years of NAMI experience from new member to National Board member as well as years of experience advocating for NAMI’s mission with State mental health authorities. When combined with a mother’s fierce protective sense, experience becomes very strong indeed.

I understand how NAMI works at every level. I began by facilitating Caring and Sharing and gain enormous satisfaction each time I teach Family to Family. I was a member of the NAMI North Carolina state board, served as its president for two years and have recently returned to that board. One of my proudest moments was being honored with The Lifetime Achievement Award presented by NAMI North Carolina.

My public involvement includes service on the following boards:

  • NAMI NC Board of Directors, Former President
  • NAMI NC Board, current
  • NC Mental Health Planning Council
  • Guilford County Area Board for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse
  • NC Council of Community Programs
  • NC Olmstead Task Force
  • NC Joint Legislative Committee on MH/DD/SA  Governance sub-committee     
  • Behavioral Health Center, Moses Cone Hospital, Greensboro, NC  Intervention Advisory Committee
  • Life Plan Trust of North Carolina
  • NAMI State President’s Council  Executive committee

My family’s personal journey into the world of mental illness slowly led me into the public arena; everything I have learned from my personal and public experiences comes together to make me a stronger advocate. Through my involvement on many boards, I have become known as a wise and effective board member. My experience serving a previous term on the national board will allow me to hit the ground running in a second term. Experience does matter.           

What financial management or fund raising expertise would you bring to the Board?

I served on the Audit and Finance committee of the national board for two years. As a state president, I worked with budgets, development efforts and endowment policy.

I learned the nuts and bolts of fiscal responsibility, when I owned and actively managed two card and gift     stores. The success of the whole operation depends on understanding balance sheets, cash flow and profit and loss statements. The urge to buy pretty new merchandise must be balanced against the need to meet payroll, to pay invoices, taxes and rent on time.  This balancing act depends upon setting clear priorities. Exactly the same principles apply to NAMI. There is so much we want to do, yet only so much we can do with limited resources.  

Fiscal management also means aggressively increasing revenue. Some of our best fundraising happens when we coordinate our efforts and collaborate ---- between national and states, between states and affiliates and between affiliates themselves. NAMI WALKS offers a perfect model for coordination between national and states. Collaboration between state and affiliates can be just as successful.   In North Carolina’s “Celebration of Courage”, a fundraiser created by one of our affiliates, state and affiliates share the revenue based on a set formula. Collaborative fundraising is win-win all around. When successful programs are shared, they don’t have to be created from scratch. When fundraising efforts are coordinated, we avoid stepping on our own toes, and corporate donors are impressed by a strong, unified NAMI.

I would like to see National do more to mentor fundraising efforts in states that want the help. There are state organizations that could benefit, for example, from NAMI know-how about planned giving and estate planning. Many of our own members are an untapped resource for this.          

What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today?  What course of action do you suggest?

The most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI today is the inadequate and diminishing treatment being provided for the people we love. NAMI has held out the promise that together we can make things better and I do believe that. But the pieces for a comprehensive system of care are in disarray. The new NAMI Report Card shines a spotlight on every state. The answers to our questions were provided by the states themselves, so the results are even more compelling.

NAMI has led the way at the national level by outlining the dimensions and the details of the failures. But as the Report Card demonstrates, this is a state by state failure. If state NAMIs could fix things by themselves, they would have already done it. If it were easy, it would be done by now. State NAMIs have done an amazing job in building coalitions, and meeting with legislators and yet the result for most states is still a failing grade.   NAMI’s next step must be to offer more structured, direct and immediate help to the states to influence legislatures and governors through public pressure. This will require NAMI to re-evaluate its own goals, staff and finances.

The biggest obstacle to decent care is lack of money. I believe that we need parity now more than ever so costs are not totally borne by the public system. The insurance industry, with its selective and discriminatory coverage, has successful lobbied to keep costs mainly in the public sector. It is past time for state government to pass parity so tax revenues can be freed up to provide adequate care for many more people.

Nothing matters more to any NAMI member than to see good and proper care available to people when and where they need it.

What brought you to NAMI -- and what is most valuable to you about your participation in the NAMI movement?

By the time our son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, my husband and I had been struggling with his illness for several years. To finally have a name for it was almost a relief. During those early years a friend suggested we try a NAMI meeting. It changed our lives. In NAMI we found other families just like ours, families who understood us and what we were going through. There would be a gentle hand on my shoulder and sometimes no words were needed. It was as if I had been standing on tip-toes for years and could finally plant both feet firmly on the ground at long last. This was before Family to Family but the information and warmth and comfort were there.

Once we understood that this was forever, we began to learn how to navigate the system. Realizing how it worked, just naturally moved us into advocacy, first for our son and then for others. As we spoke up and became more knowledgeable, we began to speak for other NAMI families

I discovered that I could make a difference when I spoke. I have become respected by officialdom. They listen when I speak. Even when I don’t win what I want, the door is always left open to try again. But the best part for me has been the warmth and caring amongst all the wonderful NAMI people. Returning to the national board seems like a natural way to continue to give back some of what has been given so generously to me: the support, the information and the opportunity to be there for other families who are just starting down this long hard road.    

What is the most pressing internal or organizational issue facing NAMI today?  What course of action do you suggest?

The most pressing issue facing NAMI today is the NAMI organization itself; how we fit the pieces of our jig-saw puzzle together for maximum impact. The National, state and local affiliate pieces, while different in size, shape, role and resources, all have one thing in common: our commitment to NAMI’s mission of making things better for those affected by serious mental illness.

Affiliates are the foundation of NAMI but national and state organizations have little spare money, staff or time to help them. This must change because our collective well- being depends on it. Stronger affiliates can only make our voices louder in our efforts to achieve our ultimate goal of proper care. Many affiliates in smaller communities across the country are struggling and it is in all of our interests that we pay attention.  

No organization can accomplish its mission in isolation. Our needs are so great. We must multiply our voices by expanding our circle beyond our traditional allies to include new allies, whose activities intersect our own. We know more about families and mental illness then anyone--- we are the experts; we should pass on what we know so well. We have made a very good beginning with schools and criminal justice. But there are other arenas in which we need to spread our message more effectively: employment, dental care, general health care and housing. For example, housing experts come to our conventions with programs that tel us how to get housing. We need to present our issues to them, at their conventions, in their newsletters and for their continuing education requirements.

It is time to refocus our organizational priorities, both within NAMI, as well as in NAMI’s relationships with allies old and new alike.