All Good Things
Ending is always difficult. I am reminded of this painful fact as my time with NAMI Iowa comes to a close after a twelve-week internship I spent with them over the summer. My first-day-jitters quickly dissipated as I got to know my coworkers and learn about my responsibilities, and I quickly settled into my new surroundings. Very quickly, the location in the office where I worked became “my space”, and everything suddenly felt more comfortable. Now, it’s ending and I am heading back to Grinnell College for my fourth and final year. Another ending. Another painful transition. But my time with NAMI Iowa has been anything but painful, and the relationships I have made here, along with the products of my work, assure me that I am returning to important things at Grinnell and will continue to make meaningful change after I graduate.
There are two main products from this summer that will outlast my position here. One is an advocacy workbook that describes how Affiliates, or anyone interested, can advocate for an issue that is important to them. The book includes explanations for different mediums, such as how to advocate online, in newspapers, and in-person, and includes tips for how to make your message as effective as possible. Although the book is aimed at helping our Affiliates, anyone can use it! The strategies inside are not useful only for mental health advocacy; they can be applied when advocating on behalf of any issue. Further, my hope is that the workbook will be helpful to new advocates as they learn the ropes and can help seasoned activists with its tips and items to remember.
The second product is more internally-focused, meaning that the most benefit will go to the work of NAMI Iowa and the Affiliates directly. NAMI has a difficult organizational structure to understand, especially when the chapters are working side-by-side. It can be unclear where a local Affiliate needs to step up and when the State office should take a supporting role. Working effectively requires communication, trust, and frequent adjustments and check-ins to ensure that everyone involved feels they are able and equipped to do the work required of them. I sought to address this by making calls to all of our Affiliate leaders and asking them many questions about their relationship with the State office. What were we doing that worked? What could we improve on? How do you feel about the scope of your duties? These questions and many others then went into an assessment on the state of the relationships between NAMI Iowa and the Affiliates in Iowa and the relationships between the Affiliates themselves. I wrote a “white paper” on the subject, and it describes the background of the problem and how it came to be, why it is a problem, and some potential solutions. This was the more difficult task of the two because creating change in an organization is hard. Many of the expectations and behaviors I heard of were created and cemented over several years, so they could not be fixed in one summer. Hopefully, this paper can act as a guide for how positive change in NAMI’s operations can occur after I’m gone.
Outside of my daily work, this summer has been very educational. Our Executive Director Peggy Huppert allowed me to accompany her to several meetings and see firsthand how advocacy and policy works in the world! I was able to see how to build a coalition, create a strategic plan for organizational change, and meet gubernatorial candidates, among other things. Peggy also helped me connect with several professionals working in Des Moines who were happy to give me career advice and ask about my own goals and aspirations. These talks and new relationships were enlightening and have given me a lot to consider as I finish my time at Grinnell and start to look for what comes next.
Where does all of this leave me? I’m not entirely sure. Classes will start again in two weeks and then I won’t be able to focus on my career and professional development as much. A little farther out, NAMI Iowa will be heavily involved with the legislative session and will be lobbying and advocating to improve the policies that affect the hundreds of thousands of Iowans who live with or are affected by mental illness. As for where we are now, I hope that both I and NAMI Iowa benefited from our time together. I can’t wait to see where they, and I, go after this.