George Kaufmann

george kaufmann

Board Chair, 2005-2007
Board Member, 2001-2011
Santa Barbara NAMI President, 2014- 2022
NAMI Steering Committee, 2000 – 2014

Like most people associated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), George Kaufmann found his way to the organization when a member of his family presented with mental illness. In George’s case it was his son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 28 years ago. NAMI is a national grassroots nonprofit with chapters nationwide which provide emotional support, educational resources and advocacy for individuals and families affected by mental illness.

For George, his wife, Milly, and their family, it was a life-saver.

When his son was first diagnosed, George said his world fell apart. “Suddenly, you have this person you’ve known his whole life replaced by someone we didn’t recognize,” George explained. “It was bewildering, and most problematic that our son – and others with mental illness – sometimes have no insight that their behavior is unusual.”

It was a challenging, traumatic time for the Kaufmanns and they felt fortunate to have found NAMI, first in Michigan where they lived, and then in Santa Barbara where they retired in 1999.

“We didn’t know anything about treatments, prognosis, or how to cope, until we found NAMI,” George said. “With NAMI we found our tribe – people who got it and had lived through it.”

In Michigan, George served as the president of NAMI in Kalamazoo. In Santa Barbara, NAMI is hosted by and receives staff support from the Mental Wellness Center and that is how George found his way to the organization. At that time local NAMI founder, Ann Eldridge, served as NAMI president and was also on the MWC board. When she stepped down from NAMI leadership in 2014, George assumed the role, serving as president until the end of 2021.
During his years in Santa Barbara, his connection with the Mental Wellness Center deepened; George joined the board, serving 12 years, including three as Board Chair.

During George’s chairmanship, the Mental Wellness Center was involved in the planning and capital campaign for the current Garden Street property. The Mental Wellness Center found community support through foundations, the City of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County, in addition to individual capital campaign donations, which allowed it to grow and thrive.

What started as a modest project grew into a multi-million-dollar undertaking, allowing the Mental Wellness Center to grow exponentially, expanding programs and housing for people impacted by mental health conditions. George credits the work of Annmarie Cameron, her staff and the MWC board for securing this treasured community resource which he calls the “crown jewel” of mental health resources in our community.

While one might think that would be George’s greatest contribution, it is the plaque inside the Mental Wellness Center’s conference room that makes him most proud. George solicited NAMI members – most of whom are not wealthy donors – to donate the center’s conference room. George said he’s more moved by that one plaque than he is of the entire building, because it came from the people who were least able to afford it but desperately needed and appreciated the space for the resources and benefits it provides.

“My son has been my greatest teacher,” George said. “The more than two decades that he has spent pursuing his recovery taught me what recovery is and allowed me to share that with others while also enriching my life in ways I never could have anticipated. The people I’ve met on this journey have improved my life and given me profound appreciation for those who struggle with mental illness every day, and for those who love them.”