Amanda speaks thoughtfully and softly. She is very wise for one so young. She has been through more than her share of heartache, with mental illness in her family and recently a cousin completed suicide.

She’s strong in her knowledge about how to help her family and she’s sharing that education as a teacher for the Portage County Family-to-Family Education Class that starts Saturday, March 16, at The Church in Aurora.

Amanda will be helping Beth Stanko teach the class which is free to anyone who would like to attend.  The class is supported by the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Portage County (NAMI).  Beth’s other co-teacher will be Mel Leinthal. Both Beth and Mel have children who are struggling with mental illness.

That’s the singular best feature of F2F as we fondly call the class; the teachers really know what they are talking about. They have walked in the same shoes, at the same late hours, back and forth in the kitchen or the family room waiting to hear from their family member who is in crisis.

When we publicize the class we ask. “Is there mental illness in your family? Do you want to know more?”

Do you want to know more about brain diseases? And medications? How to be an advocate for your family member? How to keep the lines of communication open with that family member when there seems to be no way to reach him or her?

What about how to keep yourself from total exhaustion and grief? How to find support when the going is tough, such as dealing with law enforcement and hospitalization? There’s no manual. Well. Wait, there is. The thick notebook you receive as a member of the F2F class.

It was written by Dr. Joyce Burland, the former the National Director of the Education, Training, and Peer Support Center for NAMI. Dr. Burland is a clinical psychologist and is recognized as a leader in the field of peer education for families, consumers and providers for people with serious mental illness.

She created Family-to-Family because she could not find a guide on how to have a relationship with her daughter Kim after Kim became ill with schizophrenia. Dr. Joyce is a champion for persons with mental illness and their families. She turned the tables on the diseases and sees the people who must live with them every day as super heroes. A person with mental illness as a champion? As someone courageous who is face-to-face with a daily trial by fire?

Dr. Burland writes, “We must see the heroism of that condition. And that’s when we can join them. And we really can’t join them until we are able to, as witnesses, see the heroism of that position. And that is when everything changes. When I began to see Kim not as a dancer, but as a strong, able, challenged human being. And it changed our relationship and the way we could work together.”

She goes on, “Families will say this, ‘Only illness in the world where you never get a covered dish.’ There is something about having a mental illness where everything falls away, and what you experience is fear and isolation rather than a sense of people coming towards you.”

We have a wonderful team of teachers in Portage County besides Amanda, Beth of Northfield and Mel of Hiram. The group includes Suzanne Ludwick of Tallmadge, Terri McGuckin of Kent, Mel’s husband Roger Cram of Hiram, Linda UmBayemeke of Kent, Tracy Stamm of Mantua—one of our first teachers, Joe Vero of Aurora and Mary Ann Doerzbacher, also of Aurora. Mary Ann challenged us at the MHRB more than a decade ago to start really LOOKING at the families who needed community support and education so they could help their family member. It was a win-win. Families are key to the recovery of persons with mental illness. Mary Ann didn’t let go of the rope, just dragged us into a new community of heroes.

And while she no longer teaches, she is still watching us and watching out for F2F in Portage. A member of the Women’s Guild at The Church in Aurora , she recommended the program to receive the group’s wonderful annual donation in 2012. The donation is helping us conduct the 2013 spring class in Aurora. Thanks, Mary Ann, and members of the guild.

So what about the class? It starts, March 16, 9:30 am to noon, at The Church in Aurora, 146 S. Chillicothe Road. It will run until June. Free. Call Laura at 330-673-1756, ext. 201, to sign up or email her at You can find out more about Family-to-Family at the NAMI site,

If you are looking for local counseling or crisis resources, you can find information at the Mental Health & Recovery Board website, or like us on Facebook.


Amie Cajka is the Director of Community Relations for the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County.


The Mental Health & Recovery Board is a county agency that fund, plans and monitors public mental health and substance abuse treatment services for Portage County residents. Last year, the board invested in services that helped more than 7,000 children, teens and adults. The board also funds the 24-hour crisis intervention services which handle more than 40,000 contacts each year. The agency is primarily funded by local levies. To contact the board, call 330-673-1756.