EVERETT — Every phone call from an overwhelmed parent and each hour spent with a concerned caregiver is a way for Ronn Larpenteur to pay forward what he was given.
Larpenteur, 63, is a volunteer with the Snohomish County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Nationwide the nonprofit advocacy organization works to better the lives of millions of people affected by mental illness.
In Snohomish County, the 55 or so volunteers provide free educational programs and support groups. Volunteers also field calls from those affected by mental illness. The group works to improve health care, educate the public and increase resources for those living with mental illnesses.
Larpenteur, of Bothell, first came to NAMI as someone looking for support. A relative was diagnosed with a mental illness and a health professional referred him to the organization. There he found other people who understood his journey.
Together they learn how to adjust to life with a loved one living with mental illness, he said.
“It’s like a family. You realize that you are not alone,” Larpenteur said. “There is the immediate value of support.”
Sometimes people feel isolated because of the stigmas still attached to mental illness. NAMI offers people a safe place to talk, whether they are living with a mental illness or caring for someone with a diagnosis, said Jim Bloss, a longtime volunteer and former chapter president.
A couple days a week, Larpenteur volunteers answering the organization’s phone line. He refers people to resources in the community. He also just listens.
The majority of the calls are from caregivers in crisis, Larpenteur said.
“Often they are at their wits end and they’re looking for advice,” he said.
Larpenteur also is an instructor for some of the training that NAMI offers to caregivers, relatives and friends of people with a mental illness. Participants learn how to help a loved one get on the path to recovery or how to adjust to a life with mental illness, Larpenteur said.
“People come in at various stages. Most often they’ve realized that their loved one is facing a very serious issue,” he said. “They get some background on what they may face for rest of their lives.”
Larpenteur, an engineer with the Snohomish County Public Utility District, began volunteering with NAMI about two years ago.
“Ronn, like so many of our volunteers, holds a full-time day job, has a family and other responsibilities, but has chosen to help others as he was helped when he needed that friendly, understanding voice that provided him with the advice and direction,” Bloss said.
Larpenteur says his next mission is to educate young people about mental illness.
He would like to bring presentations into middle and high schools, teaching them about mental illness and giving them tools to help their friends and family.
“We need to be educating the next generation,” Larpenteur said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Snohomish County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness call 425-339-3620 or go to www.namisnohomishcounty.org.