Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to feature an employee who has been an innovator in the mental health field. Norma Czarnik, clinical substance abuse counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health, was instrumental in co-founding and co-facilitating National Alliance on Mental Illness Fox Valley’s first support group for teenagers who are living with mental illness. The Appleton-based group is now one of four NAMI Fox Valley teen support groups.
Czarnik recently received the 2014-15 Frank Mixdorf Distinguished Service Award from NAMI Fox Valley for her work. Her approachable, nonjudgmental and trustworthy personality is a gift that teens respect and depend on. “I grew up in a family with AODA and mental health issues. I also have raised ten teens of my own,” said Czarnik. “So I understand that teens with mental health issues need to be listened to, not just by adults, but by peers who understand their issues.”
In the support group, teens celebrate their triumphs and help each other during struggling times. “The most powerful experience working as a teen support group facilitator is watching them coming together inside and outside of group,” said Czarnik. “They make friends and grow in understanding of their disease.”
Many of the teens consider the group to be an extended family, and Czarnik is the kind of person youth love to have in their families. She has attended extracurricular events to cheer on the teens on and has received invitations to high school graduations and baby showers.
Czarnik also facilitates ThedaCare’s family support group, which is free for the whole community. “The group gives families the opportunity to understand the disease their son, daughter, husband or wife has,” said Czarnik. “ThedaCare and NAMI allow families to come together and share their experiences.”