Mon09152014

Community

Local residents visit Congress to promote mental health awareness


Courtesy of Liz Semion
Among those lobbying for mental health awareness on Capitol Hill are Los Altos residents Liz Semion, second from left, and her daughter, Vanessa Verea, second from right. The pair and other advocates flank Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, third from right.

Los Altos residents Liz Semion and her daughter, Vanessa Verea, addressed members of Congress last month with high hopes.

Aiming to raise awareness of troubled youth with mental health issues, the mother-daughter pair and members of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) sat down with several members of Congress June 19 on Capitol Hill.

“I was in awe,” Semion said. “I felt so American. I know that sounds silly, but I felt so proud to be able to make my voice heard.”

The goal of their trip to Washington, D.C., was to enable NATSAP staff, parents and alumni to sit down with legislators to discuss therapeutic treatment. The event, dubbed the “Washington, D.C., Fly-in,” was the first since 2011.

The nonprofit NATSAP is a volunteer membership organization “supporting professionals and programs in their efforts to help troubled young people,” according to its website. Members have access to conferences, workshops and NATSAP’s publication, the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. Members include those operating therapeutic schools, residential treatment schools, wilderness programs and outdoor therapeutic programs.

Semion said her daughter attended one of the programs and she could see the difference it made in Vanessa’s life. But not everyone knows such resources are available, Semion noted, because they aren’t adequately publicized. That’s why Semion, Verea and members of NATSAP traveled to Washington to boost awareness of the organization’s advocacy for mental health programs.

The group met with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and congressional staff members to lobby for their cause, including Megan Thompson, legislative assistant for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); Erin Katzelnick-Wise, legislative director for Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA); and two other legislative assistants.

“Everyone we met with was absolutely wonderful,” Semion said. “Some of them had personal experiences with mental health (issues) in the family and understood our stories.”

She added that Katzelnick-Wise “chose only to meet with family members, as she felt that through them, you got the real story of the impact that these programs have.”

Semion serves on the board of the nonprofit Sky’s the Limit Fund, a local organization that raises funds to enable at-risk youth to attend the types of programs NATSAP endorses, which tend to be privately run and receive little public funding or insurance coverage.

Semion said she hopes that their meeting in Washington will lead to greater exposure for NATSAP and additional resources for the organization.

For more information, visit natsap.org.

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