Two highly dedicated and regarded people were honored for their achievements in mental health when they received the highly distinguished Zorbo awards at NAMI of Berkshire County’s annual meeting at The Lichtenstein Center on Wednesday July 25.
Colleen Sondrini-Cooper and Lou Kuch were so honored by members of NAMI of Berkshire County.
NAMI Board President Marilyn Moran said it is not what NAMI does but what it means to families, consumers, and the general public.
Sondrini-Cooper, who won the 2012 Zorbo Citizen of the Year award, exemplifies that spirit. Manager of Recovery Services for The Brien Center in Pittsfield and a certified peer specialist, Sondrini-Cooper who has a mental illness diagnosis, said she doesn’t consider herself mentally ill, but as someone who has lived experience.
“For me, illness implies what’s been said all these years by the media, news, and professional – a chronic lifelong condition,” she said.
Sondrini-Cooper said all have experienced some sort of traumatic life experience at least once in their lives, but it is coped with differently by each individual sufferer.
“All of our experiences, both positive and negative, we all experience life collectively.
95 percent of people have experienced trauma whether it be a car accident, sports injury, death of a loved one, or abuse,” she said. “This trauma may manifest itself as depression especially for people who are not supported after experiencing trauma. It is all about healing.”
Ninety – five percent of people who have an extreme event are not given a mental illness diagnosis because they are supported by family and friends, according to Sondrini-Cooper.
“I support change in every way possible. Listen and support, model, and inspire produces recovery in everyone,” she said. ” Anything that works for a person I totally support; if someone wants to be a pilot, I support that. If someone wants to be the best parent, I support that goal.”
“The way we cope, the skills we learn, and the supports we receive are all based on personal choice. The person is in the driver’s seat,” Sondrini-Cooper said.
As such, she offered a piece of advice to those who are starting on their recovery journey, not to give up hope and belief in themselves.
“Every human being has their own uniqueness that is in themselves. We are just not alone. I would say to someone experiencing trauma that they are not alone,” Sondrini-Cooper said.
To Kuch, mental illness hit home in another personal way by having a member in his family diagnosed with a mental illness.
“When mental illness raised its ugly head in my family, NAMI was there to help,” he said.
Kuch, who won the 2012 Zorbo Member of the Year which honors someone who distinguishes himself or herself through NAMI’s mission of support, education, and advocacy, sponsored NAMI-BC’s annual walk and tirelessly helped get others to sponsor the walk as well including putting out over 200 radio announcements.
He said NAMI was a big help to him and his family during a traumatic time by reminding them that they were not alone.
“There are many people with mental illness in their family. NAMI saves lives,” Kuch said. “The first responders is the family. NAMI fills the gaps by saying that you are not alone.”
Kuch said he wants a national conversation about mental illness, but that it is rarely seen in the media or in our politicians except in extreme cases.
“Patrick Kennedy says there should be more research on the mind, but he is the only one I know of who wants a national conversation on mental illness,” he said.
He said his experience with mental illness has taught him valuable life lessons.
“I begin to realize that there is a person, a person without support,” Kuch said. “I will never look at a homeless person the same way again.”
“The least to give are the people who give the most,” he said.