by Jill Forman
First, there was the rain Friday night. Not something you plan for in Southern California for outdoor events. The NAMI Walk, the group’s biggest fundraiser and celebration of determination and hope, was the next day…
6:30 a.m., Ventura Pier parking lot. There are puddles but the rain has stopped. Trucks, boxes, tables, supplies, and people all pouring in. Volunteers who believe in the cause of de-stigmatizing mental illness and advocating for care. Many have t-shirts with the name of their walking teams and heartfelt sayings about the sorrow and hope for the person, the families, and society at large.
My group is the “NAMI Mommies” and our t-shirt says, “Providing Support with a Mother’s Love.” We met in a NAMI class for families, and formed out own support group. It really helps to have others for education and emotional assistance.
But back to the Pier, it appears to be chaos but there are a couple of intrepid women with clipboards and maps and it slowly gets sorted out. Areas for organizations, information, snacks, merchandise, and so on are marked off. Tables, many many tables, need to be set up. Portable awnings, chairs, signs…everyone just sort of picks up a job and a couple of helpers. I find myself doing tablecloths with some students from Ventura and Moorpark College – the plastic clothes need to be separated, placed, and taped down. The enthusiasm and energy of the students makes it fun, and it’s interesting to hear why they are here. One young woman wants to start learning about social service agencies and meeting people for networking. Student nurses are learning a lot more than textbook information by interacting with all sorts of folks who have shown up. Family members of the mentally ill want to show their gratitude to NAMI for the free classes, groups and information it gives.
More people show up, some to walk, some to help out, some out of curiosity: “I saw all this activity and want to know what it is about.” Organizations, caregiving companies, social service groups, vendors, all come to claim and set up their spaces. Some of the table and chair setups have to be rearranged, but it all gets done. Within a couple of hours a waterlogged parking lot and a ton of stuff has been transformed into a colorful, functional event. More students show up to work at the booths for registration, team captain pickup, and t-shirt handouts. I hang out with the team captain people, and it’s so much fun to talk to every group leader, ask them who they are and why they are there, comment on their clever team names and sayings, and thank them for coming.
My team shows up; I get my cute t-shirt. There are speeches by officials and participants, and the Walk begins.