Jan Winter

Jan Winter

Board Chair 1994-1996
NAMI volunteer for 30+ years
Ann Eldridge Award recipient

“Over the many years of my son’s illness, it became a primary focus of my life to work to improve mental health services for folks with mental illness and substance abuse,” said Jan Winter.

“I was fortunate early in those years to know and learn from Ann Eldridge. Together we initiated and co-taught the first local NAMI Family-to-Family educational and support series, now carried on by a large corps of trained teachers in English and Spanish and in north and south Santa Barbara County.”

Jan found her way to the Mental Wellness Center nearly 40 years ago when her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Jan shared that he returned home after his freshman year at UCLA, transformed from a loving, intelligent, funny young many to someone who often seemed to be a stranger.

“Like many families with newly diagnosed loved ones, I knew next to zero about serious mental illness and clearly had much to learn,” said Jan. She was referred to Family Alliance on Mental Illness, now NAMI, led by Ann Eldridge. “Ann became my role model for learning and growing in mental health advocacy.”

The Family-to-Family classes have become a critical centerpiece of the services offered by NAMI and the Mental Wellness Center. The county’s mental health department provided funding for a Family Advocate at the MWC to counsel and refer families to services, and the two programs complement each other. “The connection to other families who are dealing with the challenges of a loved one with a severe mental illness have been incredibly helpful to me and to many others,” Jan stated.

While Jan was busy with NAMI, her son John attended the Fellowship Club, then in the old Chapala Street building. Meanwhile Jan’s ongoing work led her to request a county supervisor’s appointment to the Mental Health Commission, now the Behavioral Wellness Commission, where she began much of her advocacy.

Jan’s passion on the commission focused on promoting peer training and hiring as licensed peer support personnel. This program fosters the employment of persons with lived experience of mental illness to be trained and to work in various support roles for others recovering from mental illness and substance abuse.

“This program benefits both sides,” she explained, “the client who feels understood by a peer who shares their experience of mental illness, and the peer staffer who can make use of their own experiences to help others.”

Jan has attended a number of Behavioral Wellness Department action committees including Housing and Peer and Family. She served as chair of the Mental Wellness Center board during 1994 through 1996, and was on the fundraising committee for the Garden Street project, which required the board to do some soul searching about its mission: some board members felt that the project to add housing to the MWC mission was far too ambitious for such a small non-profit, and that the organization should remain committed to education, advocacy and the Fellowship Club. Others felt that the limited housing of folks with mental illness called for the MWC to step up and take on the challenge!

“I am glad we took it on,” said Jan. “The Mental Wellness Center has grown in stature as a result of this really courageous project, and not to mention, my son benefitted during the recent last four years of his life from the distinct privilege of living in a comfortable apartment at Garden Street.”