National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from
(800) 950-NAMI;

In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness

Starting the Program

  1. Decide what you want to accomplish.

    Assume that every year you will have at least one training per year

    …how many presenters?

    ….how many presentations?

    …how many program participants?


  2. Figure out what it will cost you.
  • Determining the budget is the first priority because the status of the Program Coordinator, the scope of the consumer presenter training, and administrative considerations will depend on the finances available.
  • Stipends for the presenters must be available when the training begins to insure that the program will get off to a good start.
  • The affiliates piloting the program were able to receive grants from both local foundations and county mental health departments. Consumer programs of this nature are in great demand, so be sure to make grant applications.
  • If initial funding has not been provided or obtained for the start-up phase, the Program Coordinator will be responsible for obtaining this start-up funding. In addition, the Program Coordinator will need to pursue ongoing funding as soon as possible, as this takes time.


III. Get your ducks in a row

  1. Identify the Program Coordinator

It is essential to designate or hire a Program Coordinator to initiate this program. Ideally, this should be a high-functioning consumer or family member who can tap into the local NAMI and area mental health providers. The Program Coordinator will have the central coordinating role in the project for at least the first year. After the start-up phase, bring in an Administrative Coordinator to oversee logistics and administration to support the Coordinator’s efforts.


Attributes of a Program Coordinator: The Program Coordinator should be someone who is:

  • enthusiastic,
  • organized,
  • a self-starter,
  • good at follow through,
  • able to create forms and timelines,
  • willing to sell the program to a diverse group of people,
  • able to write grant proposals or will recruit people to do so,
  • connected in the mental health community or is ready and willing to contact and pursue those who do,
  • supportive, empathetic and patient.

Responsibilities of the Program Coordinator: The Program Coordinator makes sure that the foundations are laid for the program.

While each of the following tasks is an individual project, they need to be worked on simultaneously. As you go through this manual you will find each of these tasks addressed in different stages:

  • create a plan and timeline for start-up,
  • pursue initial and ongoing funding,
  • locate initial presentation sites and schedule presentations,
  • recruit initial presenter trainees,
  • set up the first training,
  • recruit and train the Administrative Coordinator, and
  • communicate and follow up with all parties.

In addition, it will be important for the Program Coordinator to maintain contact with:

  • NAMI national- The national office will coordinate the training for you, send you Training Manuals for your trainees, and Take Home kits to be given out to everyone who attends a presentation. The Take Home kit offers a years’ free membership in NAMI when returned to national.
  • State office- It is very important that you have support from the NAMI state office. That support will be essential to coordinate inquiries about the program in your state. The state office can be helpful in securing state funding.

Of course, all these duties can be shared and delegated, but the ultimate responsibility will be with the Program Coordinator.

Once the program is off the ground and the presenters are feeling comfortable with their presentations to other consumers, an Administrative Coordinator can be hired. At this time the Program Coordinator will continue to expand the selection of sites for presentations and begin supervising the Administrative Coordinator.


B. Coordinator Learns the Ropes: Start up sequence


1.) Familiarize yourself with the program and materials.

Review the video and training materials. Begin with presentations to consumer audiences before branching out to other possible groups such as family members, health care professionals, and lay audiences. These audiences require the presenters to facilitate discussions with different lead-in questions. Presenters should first become comfortable with the workshops for consumers.

2.) Begin to create a pool of workshop sites, presenters, and volunteers.

Once you have familiarized yourself with the program, you will need to contact consumers, family members and providers to "sell the program". You will need to have a pool of at least 12 consumers who are interested in being presenters and willing to be trained. Be prepared for some dropouts along the way. You will need a similar number of consumer and family members who are willing to act as helpers at presentations. And finally, you will need a list of interested providers and other potential presentation sites. Providers will also be good sources of referrals of potential consumer presenters.

3.) Determine the starting date and location for your initial training.

Be sure to get your training site first as it can take some time to nail down a good location. Firm up the date and site at least 8 weeks beforehand allowing time to recruit trainees and free their schedules to attend a 2-day training session.

The model for a 2-day training has been developed. This provides the most supportive learning experience where the trainees gain skills while forming bonds that will foster positive mutually enhancing presentations.

Costs for the training are found in Budget Worksheet. NAMI provides the trainer, the training manuals, and the Presenter Kit. You will provide transportation stipends, food, and site expenses.

NAMI national will work with you to plan the training and coordinate with the trainer to best fit your needs.

4.) Identify affiliate coordinators if implementing statewide

It is strongly advised to locate someone on the affiliate level that would help to coordinate and market the program locally. Teams of presenters need to be scheduled for presentations. Presenter Report forms and Audience Evaluation forms need to be returned to the state office and then forwarded to NAMI national.

Marketing and scheduling the initial presentations is made much easier with a local leader who is familiar with potential sites and knowledge of target audiences.


C. Sell the Program

1.) Educate the Community

Selling the program successfully will help you to:

  1. locate potential consumer presenters
  2. enlist mental health providers for sites and support
  3. submit proposals for funding.
  • Phone calls followed by a mailing of the information sheet are the most direct and often the most effective way to get an enthusiastic commitment of presentation times and possible presenters.
  • Contact key mental health leaders, especially the local Mental Health Authority and consumer and family advocates, and schedule appointments to present the program to them.
  • Ask to be put on the agenda for the next area public mental health provider meeting to recruit consumer presenters and potential sites.
  • Write letters to the program directors of the local CMHCs residential programs, vocational rehabilitation programs, consumer drop-in centers and other consumer run programs. Insert the In Our Own Voice information sheet asking for a response which can be used if there are numerous contacts.
  • Put an announcement in your affiliate newsletter and any publications of your state and local mental health authority.
  • Explain that In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness can be shown to consumers as an educational program and/or to professionals as an in-service. You can use the information sheet to mail them information about the program.

Create Flyers

Create a short announcement to be placed in the local NAMI, consumer group and provider newsletters about the program stating your need for presenters, volunteers and sites. Your community newsletter is also a possible placement opportunity.

  • Arrange to have the flyer distributed through your local NAMI.
  • Post flyers on provider bulletin boards, in drop-in centers, day treatment centers, group homes, and halfway houses.
  • Brochures are available from NAMI National (a new one will be available soon).


Show the Video

Offer to show the video to consumer groups as a way of generating interest in the program. When giving this presentation ask if anyone is interested in becoming a presenter. Mention that stipends are given for each presentation that is given; that their participation reflects a commitment on their part to the message and goal of the program. The stipends are not to be the only motivating factor in wanting to be a presenter.


2.) Recruit Consumer Presenters

"Calling all interested consumers"

Call your local mental health authority; speak with the director of clinical services and tell him/her about the In Our Own Voice program. Explain that it is a consumer education program. Tell him/her you are looking for consumers who are interested in sharing their personal recovery story and who may be interested in becoming presenters. Let him/her know you are providing training on ____________.


What to look for in a potential presenter

You will need to recruit at least twelve (12) consumers for the initial training. They need not be active in mental health advocacy at this time, but they:

  • "have been there",
  • are in recovery,
  • believe in treatment, with medication as the cornerstone for recovery, and
  • have the time to be trained and to periodically present 1.5 to 2 hour workshops, often during working hours.


Consumer Presenter Job Description:

  • Present In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness video and lead discussions.
  • Act as a positive role model
  • Relate personal recovery to other consumers
  • Assist with evaluation and assessment of the program

You can use this job description when talking to consumers, mental health professionals, and family members who may have a consumer interested in the program.


Interview Potential Presenters

Before the actual interview have the prospective presenters fill out an application that asks why they are interested in this program. Send the application to prospective trainees and have them return it to you the day of the interview.

The Coordinator will need to assist in interviewing prospective presenters.

Look for someone who is:

  • articulate,
  • personable, and
  • willing to speak publicly about their illness and recovery.

You don’t want this to be an overwhelming experience but you do want to get an idea of the degree of recovery, commitment and enthusiasm the consumer experiences to take this next step in their recovery. Stipends for the consumer presenters are an integral part of the program but should not be the motivating factor for becoming a presenter.


D. Build Your Infrastructure

Volunteer Help

At this initial stage invite NAMI and other volunteers to help you spread the word. They can help you:

  • set up the training,
  • contact potential funding,
  • distribute flyers,
  • send out letters to possible sites and potential consumer educators.

Later volunteers can be trained to help with the presentations.

The volunteers can help:

  • transport consumers who do not have transportation,
  • bring the video and Take-Home kits,
  • give the introduction which will tell about NAMI and
  • have evaluations filled out and returned to NAMI.

In the long run you will need a pool of at least three (3) volunteers to help out unless you have co-presenters who can do these tasks.

A team of two consumer presenters is preferred, a main consumer presenter and a support presenter. The presentations can have teams of two consumer presenters sharing the program equally, a single consumer presenter and a support presenter or a family member who can give information about programs and activities of the local NAMI.

Administrative Help

  • Create forms for keeping track of potential presenters, possible volunteers, and potential sites.
  • Create forms for keeping track of scheduled presentations, with forms to confirm these with sites, presenters and volunteers.
  • Create a master calendar to keep track of all workshops as they are scheduled.
  • Send Presenter Report forms and Audience Evaluation forms to NAMI national.