Please join us in welcoming NAMI San Diego’s new CEO Cathryn Nacario at the helm of one of the oldest mental health advocacy organizations in San Diego. We all want to get to know Cathryn a little better, and in her efforts to get to learn staff names, departments, and all NAMI San Diego does, she took a few minutes to sit down with us and answer a few questions.
How did your family react to the news that you would be the next CEO for NAMI San Diego?
My family, both biological and blended, were thrilled…including the two daughters in my household, aged 10 and 17. My family knew from my nursing days, how much I loved working with and serving vulnerable populations. When I first saw the NAMI San Diego CEO job announcement I realized not only was this my dream job, but also a perfect opportunity to return to the nonprofit world with a new and effective skill set. My family was as excited as I was to see me take a leadership position to serve the greater good.
Share a little about the road that led you to NAMI San Diego?
Years ago, I worked with San Diego Hospice as a pediatric nurse which was as difficult an experience as it was rewarding. Later, I spent seven years working with the Borrego Medical Center during which time I helped to establish a downtown clinic to address the striking social and economic discrepancies that I saw in the community. I wrote some of the first Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) grants to meet the needs of uninsured and under-insured populations. It was deeply meaningful work. Fast forward to a new marriage, a blended family and a rekindled desire to serve the nonprofit world. And here I am.
How do you like to (and not like to) spend your non-working hours?
What I don’t like to do is sit still. I find being “idle” a very difficult thing. What I like to do is move! While I’m no longer an active triathlete (for health reasons), I still enjoy running and hiking. In fact, my family knows that when I am out on a trail, jogging or walking, not to call or text me. This helps me “unplug” as exercise and movement is meditative and restorative to me. I also like to spend time baking bread. I bake all the bread my family eats. I also love to cook and have a low sugar kitchen. I am really interested in integrated nutrition. My oldest daughter says I’ve “ruined her” because when she eats fast food, it tastes bad.
If you had the opportunity to relay one message to ALL San Diego’s children, youth, Transitional Age Youth and families living with behavioral health challenges – what would it be?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. That’s the most important message I can think of. Through personal experience, I have seen how devastating it can be when people don’t talk about mental illness. Stigma is an ongoing battle, but the most important thing for parents and people of all ages to know is that there are many others who have lived experience with mental illness, both as peers and as family members, and we can learn from them. You are not alone is the first message I want all of San Diego to know when it comes to mental illness, and that NAMI San Diego is here and is ready to help.