In 2013, still settling into her position as NAMI’s first executive director, Lori Jarvis-Steinwert walked into Bank of Colorado to play some hardball. NAMI had a CD with the bank, and she’d seen higher interest rates being paid elsewhere.
Bank president Collyn Florendo was pretty new to his situation, too, having only recently relocated from Nebraska with his wife, Jackie. And he had a soft spot for nonprofits, having served on various boards and wanting to do more of the same in his new city. But after 30-plus years in business, mostly as a bank president, he wasn’t about to be hassled about his rate — especially knowing that Bank of Colorado had a history of sponsoring NAMI events.
After Lori said her piece, she remembers, “He paused, looked out the window, and said to me, ‘How much money did Wells Fargo give you last year?’ I thought, ‘Point taken.’”
Taken and very much appreciated. “He was obviously a character,” Lori says, “someone who was going to question and challenge me. He was quick on his feet. He had sort of a wry sense of humor. I knew those things would be great additions to the board.”
Yes, Lori lost that day’s negotiation, but she won her next one, convincing Collyn to join NAMI’s board of directors. Over the last six years, he has shepherded NAMI’s financial growth from a $200,000 organization to a $500,000 one, providing steady leadership as treasurer and, in the last year, as president.
This month, Collyn is term-limited off the board, but he has agreed to continue lending his business acumen as a member of NAMI’s Finance Committee. He recently sat down and talked about his experience with NAMI.
What was it about Lori and the organization that made you want to be involved?
I distinctly remember one of my first meetings at NAMI. There was a placard that showed all of the ways that mental illness shows itself, from eating disorders to addictions. I think I had an eating disorder in college: I was a wrestler in college and had to take some rather drastic measures to lose weight. So it was very clear to me how far-reaching mental illness is.
I became involved, and I saw the efforts of Lori and her devotion to the cause. When I became a board member, I saw all the wonderful volunteers we have. It sold me on it. I saw how efficiently NAMI is run — at the time, it was a very small budget — and how all the people, from Lori to the volunteers, were really pouring their souls into the cause. It made me believe it was an organization I wanted to be part of and support the best we could.
When you became engaged with the board, what role did you see that you could play to really help the organization?
With my background being in finance, and having been involved in boards throughout the years … I hoped that maybe I could lend some insight to the finance side. I think I’ve always been willing to ask some of the tough questions and address some of the tough issues that need to be addressed. So that was really it.
I didn’t know much about mental illness, but shortly after becoming involved with NAMI, I learned that my brother probably died of a mental illness, and my mother, and that I have had some other family members affected by it.
Can you talk a little about your brother and how his experience affected you?
When he took his life, he wasn’t diagnosed. But now, after being with NAMI, I have no doubt that he was bipolar. He was a drug addict, so I watched that and how that affected his life. He eventually took his life when he was 45, so obviously that had a very profound effect on me. So I’ve learned more about mental illness and how it manifests itself in various ways.
How did that experience affect your family?
Well, I believe it killed my mother. I remember the phone call we got from law enforcement; it didn’t surprise me, because I knew he’d been struggling. But shortly thereafter, I think my mother suffered from depression.
Eventually, she got cancer. She told me about it, but it was too late by then, by the time we found a specialist for her. I think she had just given up on life at that point. She had lost her oldest child, and I don’t think she ever recovered. Her official death is from cancer, but I think depression killed her.
Over the six years you’ve been on the board, how have you seen people’s attitudes toward mental illness change?
[Mental illness] has been so stigmatized by our society. It seems like it’s more accepted now. There should be no shame in it, and I think that’s how people are starting to perceive it. And I believe that’s due in part to the work of NAMI.
If you were, say, at a dinner party, and you had to describe NAMI to somebody who knows nothing about it, how would you describe it?
I would describe NAMI as being very compassionate, and fully devoted to helping those who are afflicted by mental illness in our society. … I think the passion and belief of the board members and our wonderful volunteers and Lori and our staff is as great as any nonprofit that I’ve served on.
What are you most proud of, in the work you’ve done on the board?
Helping with the finances has been very rewarding, to see the budget grow due to the great support of our NAMI staff and all the donors … and to see that we affect or help 2500, 3000 people throughout the year through a variety of programs at no cost to the people we serve. That’s been important to me, that through the generosity of the donors, we continue to be able to offer these programs at no cost.
What is your greatest hope for NAMI moving forward?
My greatest hope for NAMI in the future would just to be more visible. Ideally, I would like for NAMI to not be needed, but that’s a little idealistic. This is a disease that likely won’t go away. People continue to struggle with a lot of issues in their lives. …
I think we are viewed as a leader in mental illness help. If we can continue to grow that presence, that would be my goal.