Donna Pollard believes education about mental illness empowers people to handle the challenges these illnesses present. She has been associated with the National Alliance for the Mentally-Ill Orange County (NAMI-OC) since its inception in the early 1980’s. Today, she serves in several important capacities, volunteering her time to benefit others through the Family-To-Family and School Outreach Programs.
She is a member of the NAMI-OC Board of Directors, serving as Education Chairperson. She also continues her work as a teacher for the Family-To-Family program, which is a 12-week course designed to educate parents, siblings, and significant others of persons diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness. As a family member of an individual of schizophrenia, she is able to help others deal with a loved one facing the challenges of mental illness.
Pollard has gone beyond serving as a teacher to become a state trainer for the Family-To-Family program. She and her teaching partner, Bill Harwood, have conducted 1/3 of the classes help since 1996 and have personally trained over half of the 55 volunteer teachers now offering Family-To-Family classes. While NAMI-OC was previously only able to send two people each year for teacher training, Pollard’s willingness to become a state trainer and offer local training sessions has more than doubled the size of the Family-To-Family program teaching staff. The program is now being offered in Spanish to meet the needs of one of Orange County’s fastest growing and largest ethnic groups.
Family-To-Family classes have been conducted in 15 different cities throughout Orange County, helping to meet the needs of local communities. Pollard believes that the requirement that Family-To-Family teachers themselves be family members of a person diagnosed with mental illness is the key to the tremendous success of the program and its unique ability to support these families.
The staff of NAMI-OC credits Pollard with the creation of a growing school outreach program. This began in 1995 as a way to present an overview of mental illness to students in Orange County junior high and high schools. Since its inception, the School Outreach Program has now been presented in every public school district in the county. While the School Outreach Program helped approximately 2,500 people last year, the program has a goal of reaching 6,500 teachers and students during the 2000-2001 school year. It has grown so much that NAMI-OC has successfully obtained a grant from the Orange County Community Foundation to hire a coordinator for School Outreach. Donna Pollard is continuing her work with the program as a volunteer because she believes that the stigma of mental illness will only be eliminated if people obtain a greater understanding of the illness.