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NAMI walk takes stand against mental illness

By Sarah Smith
Point Park News Service

Courtesy of NAMI

The National Alliance on Mental Illness will hold its sixth-annual walk in Sunday, Oct. 14, in Pittsburgh.

Funds from the 5K walk on the South Side will benefit local providers and consumers and directly help individuals living with mental illness.

According to John Lovelace, former chairman of the walk, one in four people have been affected with mental illness. NAMI is a non-profit organization established to tackle the increasing need for families and services to speak out about the mental health system. NAMI has also been helping families with mental illness in Southwestern Pennsylvania for over 25 years.

“The primary purpose of the walk is to raise awareness. Last year we had more than 1,000 walkers despite the fact that it was cold, rainy and blustery outside. This year we are hoping for as many as 1,500 walkers,” Lovelace said.

Currently, the organization’s walks raised $55 million in communities across America. The money raised goes to funding education about severe brain disorders and also helps advocacy and rehabilitation programs. Through various volunteer activities, NAMI provides self-help and support groups to assist families to become more efficient self-advocates.

For the past two years, UPMC has been the premiere sponsor for NAMI. Community Care, a division of UPMC Insurance Services, is currently the top team that has raised over $14,000.

Chief Government Programs Officer for Community Care Deb Wasilchak started her involvement with the organization since it began in Pittsburgh six years ago and is helping to plan this year’s walk.
“I’ve been our team captain for a number of years,” Wasilchak said, “but this year John [Lovelace], our NAMI walk chair president, is not able to go, so I’ll be giving our kickoff and welcome to the group.”
She also said the goal for the walk is to raise $200,000. So far the Southwestern Pennsylvania region has over 870 donors who contribute to the cause.

“I think the most powerful part of it is the sense of belonging,” Wasilchak said.

According to Darcey Garda, manager of marketing and development for NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania, the walk gives people a reason to talk about mental illness.

“The more people talk about it, the more others realize how common and treatable mental illness is, which is a huge step in raising awareness and overcoming stigma,” Garda said.

The walk is expanding in Southwestern Pennsylvania to promote awareness, raise funds, build leaders, and strengthen communities.

“The Mayview State Hospital closed about five years ago so a lot of individuals there have been discharged and seeing them become a part of this celebration is heartwarming,” Wasilchak said.

The event also receives a lot of publicity from the media. This year, Michelle Wright, Honorary Chair and news anchor from WTAE-TV, will be at the walk as well as the Pirate Pierogies.

“The most special guests of course are the consumers and their families,” Lovelace said.

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