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Grow a Strong Family is based on the strong belief that no one should live in isolation, without support, resources, or skills, especially caregivers and families impacted by others with mental illnesses/brain disorders.

Founder's Story or The Story of Grow a Strong Family

Our founder, Mara Briere, is a master’s level Certified Family Life Educator with lived experience as a caretaker of family members with serious mental illnesses/brain disorders.  Her entire career has been devoted to working with individuals impacted by mental illnesses/brain disorders including those carrying the diagnosis, significant others, families, and caregivers in institutional and community settings.

In Mara’s own words,  My lived experience informed my decision to work in the mental health field.  I grew up in a two-family house with my grandparents.  My grandmother suffered from manic depression and was often hospitalized at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens, NY.  I was close with my grandmother and watching her swing from mania to crippling depression was heartbreaking.  My grandfather could not deal with my grandmother when she was like this, so he drank until he stopped (in 1954) and then he became very active in the new program of recovery, AA.  This left my mother and my sister and I to take care of grandma(beginning in 1964).  We would return from school, check on grandma, and call our mom.  When grandma was actively suicidal, we would call mom and she would be home in time to meet the ambulance.  This family life experience shaped me professionally to work in community clubhouse programs with chronic and homeless persons with serious mental illnesses/brain disorders.  I was a therapeutic recreation specialist.  Fast forward, my career expanded and included substance abuse counseling, home visiting, and finally, family life education teaching and coaching.

In addition to my grandmother, I have several family members with bipolar including my father, my sister, my aunt on my mother’s side, my stepfather, and my daughter’s biological father.

My daughter’s first major episode of bipolar one occurred when she was 25.  She was triggered by an infection and had the blessing of genetic material from both sides of her biological family.  I sought a family systems therapist to guide me through the impact on our family.  He said, “After you’ve taken the NAMI Family to Family program, there is nothing more I can help with.  You already do everything I could suggest.”  Several other clinicians told me the same thing.