NAMI-IL honors Glenview resident for service

March 23, 2017

Vi Orr of Glenview was honored at the annual conference of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Illinois (NAMI-IL) held at Techny Towers, Northbrook. Orr, a longtime advocate for the mentally ill and their families, was the founding president of the state NAMI organization.

During her term as president, Orr created committees for bylaws, public relations, fundraising, brochure design, dues structure, as well as a committee of professional advisers, and filed incorporation papers.

Regional meetings were held around the state at hospitals that had psychiatric units and at state operated facilities. This was before deinstitutionalization, when facilities were at full capacity.

NAMI’s meetings featured top speakers to educate the growing group of families who were eager to learn and share information. This was 40 years ago, and it was all done without computers, tablets or smartphones.

Newsletters were written on typewriters and the office was Orr’s kitchen table. These mailings were the primary means of getting information out to members and the public.

In her three years as president, Orr wrote an eight-page quarterly newsletter, initiated a “Get Acquainted with Your Affiliate” column and “Client Consumer’s Corner.” She developed a mailing list of more than 5,000 names, donor cards and raffles to raise necessary startup funds and opened the first NAMI office.

NAMI Illinois started with 12 affiliates and within three years it grew to 28 affiliates. A strong foundation was laid with statewide representation. Today, NAMI-IL has offices in Springfield and Chicago.

Also recognized was Catherine Barrett of Lisle, formerly of Palatine, and Alice Byrne, formerly of Franklin Park.

Barrett directed her efforts toward the lack of decent housing for people living with a mental illness. For several years her home and dining room table served as the meeting place for all those interested in finding housing solutions.

The group outgrew her home and an alternate location was necessary. Barrett was instrumental in the creation of the North and Northwest Suburban Task Force for Supportive Housing. Today, the results of those early meetings provided housing for people with disabilities and homelessness in the form of Myers Place in Mount Prospect and Phil Haven’s in Wheeling.

Alice Byrne, formerly of Franklin Park, is a retired nurse educator and a World War II veteran army nurse. She also has many years as an advocate and as a mother with a son severely ill with schizophrenia.

Byrne helped in forming a local support group, which later became an affiliate, NAMI West Suburban Cook County. During those early years, several small groups had formed and three area affiliates merged to have more strength in numbers and speak in one voice. Byrne was one of original promoters for the merger and held various offices, including membership chair, recruiting, policies and legislation.

Byrne was always “hands on” wherever and whenever she could be of help to others facing the challenges of mental illness disabilities.

Today, the tireless efforts of these three women provided the base for a strong foundation. NAMI is the largest grass roots organization in the country dedicated to building better lives for the millions affected by mental illness.