She has seen so many changes as people are opening up about dealing with mental illness. It used to be a secret.

Welcoming early risers at the overflowing May 4 NAMI-Colorado Springs "Embracing the Light" community breakfast and fundraiser, NAMI Executive Director Lori Jarvis-Steinwert recalled seven years ago when a much smaller group gathered in the same Antlers ballroom for the first breakfast. NAMI-Colorado Springs is part of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"We began to open the conversation about mental illness. We tiptoed into the waters. And we began to share with more of you living with mental illness and for their loved ones."

Said Jarvis-Steinwert, "Seven years later, we're grateful that mental illness is now talked about more openly. It's on the hearts and minds of so many of us. There wouldn't be nearly 800 of us in this ballroom this morning if it wasn't."

They were there supporting NAMI's mission of educating, supporting and advocating for those with mental illness, she said. And they donated $145,000 to extend the group's work, $65,000 from event sponsors and $80,000 from individual donors.

Honored were community partners including the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center which staged "Next to Normal," a Tony winner about a family dealing with the mother's manic depression. NAMI-Colorado Springs received a portion of the proceeds.

Also honored was the Colorado Springs Osteopathic Foundation for its $75,000 grant for youth outreach and for continued law enforcement first aid classes teaching about dealing with those with mental illness.

Sharing her story to encourage people to "Don't Go It Alone" was Shelly Prescod, whose family had "lived in a perpetual state of grief" with their mentally ill niece. Mental illness "is a marathon, not a sprint," she said, and finding NAMI led them to an interfaith support team, legal advice and people who understood. Help was there. "Don't isolate," said Prescod. "Don't try to go it alone. Never ever give up hope."

Tyra Sandoval's son was just an acting-out typical teen, their family thought. Then he was found walking across traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway and had cigarette burns up and down his arms. Finally a diagnosis: schizophrenia. They didn't want him judged or suicidal, she said. Through NAMI (namicoloradosprings.org) they found help and "every day he walks this earth is a good one." Today Sandoval volunteers on the NAMI Board where they deal with issues like El Paso County's high teen suicide rate, as many as 17 or 18 in 2016.

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