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City council backs grant application for NAMI expansion

If awarded a $500,000 federal grant, the National Alliance on Mental Illness could build accessible meeting space that it lacks at its existing North State Street building.

In turn, that construction project would allow NAMI to build on the resources it offers to individuals and families living with mental illness, said Susan Stearns, director of philanthropy.

The city council gave its blessing last night to the application for the grant, which would be awarded by the Community Development Finance Authority.

The spaces inside the NAMI building that are used for education and support groups are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Stearns said in an interview yesterday.

“That’s posed a problem for us,” she said.

Without that meeting area, NAMI had to turn applicants away from a training session on public policy and mental health last year for a lack of space, Stearns said.

Older adults who can’t travel up the stairs to NAMI’s second-floor meeting room have to participate in support group meetings by conference call, she said, and the office has had to close to allow privacy for a support group of people who lost a loved one to suicide that meets in the building lobby.

Renting outside meeting space is also sometimes a solution for NAMI, Stearns said, but that can also be a financial burden.

“Actually, we find the rental costs in the city itself a little prohibitive and have had to go to one of the surrounding towns, like Bow,” she said.

But an expansion with an ADA-compliant meeting room would allow NAMI to both host more classes and keep more of its resources on site, Stearns said.

“That’s what NAMI’s about, trying to break down that stigma, make sure that individuals and families living with mental illness have access to (services they need),” Stearns said. “This grant would help us be able to expand what we do and reach more folks.”

Also as part of the construction that would be funded by this Community Development Block Grant, Stearns said NAMI would add office space to the building for a new staff member. A separate federal grant could soon fund an additional family support specialist at NAMI.

“We’ve seen an incredible increase in folks seeking our services, including those dropping in here at the office,” Stearns said. “We have projected some grant funding that should be coming our way that could expand our staff but literally have nowhere to put them.”

Stearns told the council yesterday that NAMI provided assistance to about 12,000 people last year. This year, she said she has seen an incredible increase in demand.

“We saw, in the first month of the fiscal year, more individuals coming through our doors for assistance with issues with the mental health system than we had in the same quarter, the entire quarter, last year,” Stearns said. “And we continue to see those numbers growing.”

Grant applications are due Jan. 27.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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