Jun. 30—Who: Located at 829 Jefferson Ave., Scranton, the Northeast Region PA affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has served the region for more than 40 years, providing support and education to families, friends and individuals living with mental illness, explained Executive Director Marie Onukiavage. NAMI is “the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to helping to build better lives for anyone affected by mental illness,” she added.

What: During the pandemic, the local office moved its support groups and educational programs online. Today, it hosts three support groups that meet twice monthly either online or in person, and it plans to add two more in the coming months. Its free educational programs help not only people with mental illness but also their family members. Other programs aim to improve the community’s understanding of mental illness, provide hope and inspiration, and help people recognize mental health crises in youth and adults. NAMI also hosts various community events, works with other groups to raise awareness about mental health and helps train local law enforcement and other first responders.

Why: Many people not only find themselves struggling with their mental health because of the pandemic but also find it difficult to get services that could help them, Onukiavage said.

“Many mental health providers are overwhelmed with the need right now, creating long wait times for services, and people are reaching out for any support they can get,” she added.

While NAMI does not provide clinical services, it can offer support and information to help people in the meantime and as they try “to navigate the mental health resources in our community, Onukiavage noted.

NAMI found itself unable to hold its annual events during the pandemic, including the Walk for Mental Health Awareness held each May in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month. NAMI canceled the event for 2020 and 2021, instead installing bows with the message, “Find Help, Find Hope, Find NAMI” and NAMI’s contact information on the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail and at county parks in Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wayne counties. Local volunteers, including students from Wallenpaupack Area High School, made and hung up the bows in the hope that people would see them “and know that they are not alone,” Onukiavage said. County commissioners also made declarations for Mental Health Awareness Month, and several buildings lit up their exteriors in green, the color associated with the mental health awareness movement.

NAMI also could not hold its lone major fundraiser, the Evening of Hope, last year, which Onukiavage said impacted its budget. The organization hopes to bring back the event this November and welcomes “any contributions of manpower and resources to help make this event a success,” she added. To donate, visit naminepa.org. For more information, call 570-342-1047.

Since NAMI has just two part-time staff members, volunteers serve an important role in its efforts. Volunteers with personal connections to mental illness lead educational programs and support groups. NAMI also could use volunteers to do office work, create social media content and help at major events, and it will provide training.

“We always welcome donations and opportunities to raise funds, such as the recent NEPA Gives event,” Onukiavage said. “Almost everything NAMI does is free, and all funds raised locally provide support and programming to our local families, friends and neighbors.”

In her own words: “NAMI Northeast Region PA is a small nonprofit that helps to meet a big need in our community. All support and donations will help us to continue to meet that need.” — Marie Onukiavage, executive director

Contact the writer: cwes[email protected]; 570-348-9100 x5107; @cheaneywest on Twitter

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