As Amy Heydlauff, former CEO of Michigan’s 5 Healthy Towns Foundation, explains, “It’s getting people down in the shadows up to the alleluia part of the graphic. It’s fully engaging the entire community to embrace and care for everyone. Our hope is that we will draw a circle around everyone, and those circles will become concentric circles, where everyone is aware of, and taking care of, the people closest to them. Those circles then move out to the community, into their neighborhoods and jobs, and the circles get wider with this depth of caring that we are charged with.”
When presented with the $25,000 Rippel Foundation grant, the core team partners had an opportunity to experiment. “The conversation became about how best to use a resource to serve community needs,” said Heydlauff. “There was an idea that was percolating around engaging the faith community in mental health, but no one had the time or the depth to do it. We knew they were a deeply embedded resource that could help us reach isolated community members. As we revisited the concept, each of us had something to contribute and others were open to suggestions. When someone asked, ‘Why don’t we work with NAMI Washtenaw County (the National Alliance on Mental Illness)?’ we all agreed.”
The Freedom to Imagine
By thinking together as stewards, there was a freedom to imagine the grant’s potential and an open-mindedness about who could play a part in solutions. “If we were permitted to have one of our own organizations receive the grant, it would have been a different conversation,” said Heydlauff. “We handled it in a way that was interconnected and took advantage of our networks.” Some had worked with NAMI Washtenaw County in the past to leverage their mental health education, advocacy, and support services. Others had liaisons in the faith community. “The most fun exercise was the networking. When we saw all the connections, we realized the network was this giant spiderweb we should always see in our minds before we do anything,” she said.
Connecting to Rural Communities
Judy Gardner, executive director of NAMI Washtenaw County, most wanted to reach the rural communities where residents often feel forgotten. As a grassroots volunteer-led organization, which until recently had the equivalent of two full-time staff members, NAMI Washtenaw County often has to fight for a piece of the pie when it comes to funding, limiting the organization’s reach. “If you are not providing clinical services, or you are not one of the larger, more well-known organizations, it’s a challenge, even though we’re small and mighty and make an impact on the community,” said Gardner.
Through the Rippel Foundation grant funding, outreach coordinators expanded NAMI Washtenaw County’s FaithNet program to rural areas of the county, promoting mental health education through faith communities where there is trust and a common bond, in a place where resources are often limited. “For residents who have been raising their hands, saying ‘we’re over here,’ this funding lets them know we didn’t forget about them,” said Gardner. “If we have people who are in the margins of our community who can’t participate because of a brain disorder, we have to bring them into the fold.”