Town Talk Features

Reaching Out: Sandra Hartge of NAMI St. Louis

nami st. louis: to improve the quality of life for people experiencing mental illness and their families, caregivers and friends through education, advocacy, support, leadership and customer-centered services

meet volunteer sandra hartge of kirkwood

How long have you been a volunteer?
13 years

What interested you in this particular cause?
My son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager. I didn’t know what to do or how to help him. I felt very alone. A friend of mine taught a class for NAMI, and she introduced me to the organization. I took one of the 12-week Family-to-Family courses, and it helped me so much. When I got a letter saying NAMI was looking for volunteers, I wanted to give back. Once I took that first class, I was hooked because it’s such a great organization.

What kind of volunteer work are you involved with?
I’m a board member, and in the past, I served as secretary for the executive board. I concentrate most of my work on helping families. I underwent intensive training to be an instructor, and this year, I taught my 12th course. The classes are open to family and friends, and groups of 10 to 15 participants meet for 12 sessions to further understand a diagnosis, develop communication skills and learn about which medications help with different illnesses. People get to see that they aren’t alone as they start to better understand how to cope. I also was trained to teach a six-week class that is specifically for parents who have a child or teen with mental illness. Along with teaching, I facilitate support groups. They meet once a month and are less structured than the training courses. They are open to anyone who has a loved one with mental illness; it’s a place for people to come together and be open about problems they are facing.

If you could do anything for the organization, what would it be?
Bring more awareness to the community. There is still a stigma about mental illness, and people don’t know how NAMI can help. I want others to be able to navigate this problem in a healthy, successful way. That’s why NAMI does what it does.

in the words of nami st. louis: “We always receive positive comments from people who have been in Sandra’s classes. She helps families feel less isolated and normalizes the situations they experience. Doing all of this takes energy, passion and commitment that deserves to be recognized.”

Photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography

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