It started as a small group of families with something in common. Organized in 1972 by a visionary leader, Carmel Spadola, the Mental Health Advocacy Group began holding meetings to offer support and advocacy for those affected by mental illness and their families. This group of families was later to join forces with similar groups that had started in various other parts of the country to form NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Carmel Spadola was the proverbial pioneer. With no money but with full conviction, Carmel held event after event in a determined effort to raise funds for the fledgling organization, NAMI Bergen County, Carmel secured office space in the Senior Citizen’s Building in Fort Lee. A basement space, carved out of the furnace room—tiny, closet size but cozy, comfortable—and rent free! She arranged for meeting space in the Community Services Building where for many years our Board meetings, Meet the Professional, and Family-to-Family classes were held.
In 1999, along with a dozen or so others from across the country, Carmel was fittingly honored at the NAMI National Convention as one of the pioneer founders of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Eventually, our office space had to give way to the installation of an elevator for use by senior citizens, and NAMI had to give up the little office that was called home for nearly thirty years. With two more moves in the offing, we’ve packed our files and belongings while tracing our roots and reflecting on those who paved the way for us. In re-affiliation as NAMI Greater Bergen, we extend many years of heartfelt gratitude to those who came before us. We salute Carmel Spadola and the visionary leaders who helped us get where we are today.