The local Four County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has its first executive director.
The Four County NAMI board in December approved the hiring of Bryan native Wendy Jennings to serve as its executive director. NAMI Four County has never had an executive director and Jennings, a 1979 Bryan High School alum, will serve on a part-time basis initially.
“I think the board felt that the time is now for an executive director to kind of coordinate our efforts. We’ve been a small organization, but times change and the demands have increased and it’s time to expand and grow,” said Jennings, who moved back to the area about six years ago to be closer to family and manage family businesses.
NAMI provides advocacy, education, support and public awareness to assist individuals and families affected by mental illness to build better lives. A 501(c)(3) non-profit, NAMI Four County serves residents of Williams, Henry, Defiance and Fulton counties and is affiliated with the state and national chapters of NAMI.
Jennings, a mother of three sons, said she’s excited about her new challenge because she has a passion for helping family members and others better understand what living with a mental health issue really means.
For her, it’s an extension of her lived experience as the mother of a son with autism who has battled addiction as well as mental health problems. Those problems have gotten him in legal trouble and made it necessary for Jennings to learn as much as possible about behavioral health disorders, their treatment and how to advocate for a loved one.
“Resources for my son seemed to be limited,” she explained. “The judicial system was uncooperative and my pleas for help seemed to be met with little to no compassion or went unheard because of my son’s complicated situation.
“Through NAMI, I was able to make connections and better advocate for my son. More importantly, I felt my voice was being heard when I shared my experiences. I felt hopeful for the first time.”
That led Jennings to become involved with NAMI Four County, with the goal of learning all that she could to help family members who have a loved one who struggles with mental health problems.
She explained that NAMI offers free mental health education classes as well as support groups where people with similar experiences can learn from one another.
“Sharing and learning with people who understand what you are going through is powerful,” she said, adding her experience taught her mental illness can be isolating not only for the person with the illness, but their entire family.
NAMI Four County, she said, offers an important network of support.
“As the first executive director of NAMI Four County, I want to increase our advocacy efforts in the community, to build on and expand on what we have. It’s my goal to erase stigma, build community awareness and, most of all, bring hope to local families and individuals living with a mental health condition.”
Jennings attended the University of Toledo and worked in restaurant and retail management before relocating to metro Atlanta, where she raised her three sons and worked as operations manager at Apparel Manufacturing.
Jennings now lives in Defiance and has worked as a certified vocational support specialist for Partners in Employment for the past five years. She currently is president of the Bryan ARTS club and serves as vice president of Never Let Go Ministries’ board of directors.