HCN News & Notes

Cooley Dickinson Volunteer Receives NAMI Unsung Hero Award

NORTHAMPTON — Ella Smolenski, a mental-health advocate, support-group facilitator, and member of Cooley Dickinson Health Care’s (CDHC) Patient Family Advisory Council, received the Unsung Hero award from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Mass) at its annual convention on Oct. 29.

Smolenski said she accepted the award in honor of all families who are unsung heroes in the area of mental health, adding that she’s proud to “embrace the mission of the National Alliance on Mental Illness because I believe that self-stigma and stigma in general are obstacles to obtaining treatment for very treatable mental-health disorders and funding.”

Identified by her nominators and NAMI Mass as “one of those people who quietly and steadily gets things done,” Smolenski has taught Family-to-Family, a support group for families dealing with mental-health issues, for three years after participating in the class five years ago. She has been working with Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s inpatient behavioral-health staff to co-facilitate the program and has organized community mental-health fairs.

Because of her commitment and passion for those living with a mental-health diagnosis and their families, Smolenski was recruited to join Cooley Dickinson’s Patient and Family Advisory Council in 2014. In that role, she brings a perspective about patients with mental illness that would otherwise not be at the table. Through its relationship with Smolenski, Cooley Dickinson has worked more closely with the Western Mass. chapter of NAMI, and CDHC President and CEO Joanne Marqusee was among the first in Western Mass. to sign the CEOs Against Stigma pledge.