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Divinna Schmitt, president of NAMI Shoreline, is certified in Collaborative Problem Solving through Think:Kids. (Photo courtesy of Divinna Schmitt )
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Divinna Schmitt’s career was focused on children for many years before she retired in 2002. She spent many years working as a teacher at various schools and also worked in the children’s theater field.
She and her husband, David, raised two children and during a difficult time, Divinna found a new calling. While in a hospital waiting room, she reached out to another parent.
“Half crying, I said to her, ‘I just need a script. I don’t know how to deal with this,’ and she said, ‘Have I got a book for you,’ and recommended The Explosive Child: [A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children],” says Divinna. “The book changed my life and my family’s lives. It switched my whole way of thinking.”
Divinna believed in the words of the author, Ross Greene, so much that, eight years ago, she became certified in the approach.
“Think:Kids teaches Collaborative Problem Solving, a revolutionary, evidence-based approach for helping children with behavioral challenges,” according to thinkkids.org.
The certification program, which is based out of Massachusetts General Hospital, is now led by Dr. Stuart Ablon.
“I wanted to do a support group [using the approach],” says Divinna. “It’s so rewarding when the parents see the light. You don’t get to do that very often in life—help a family see things from a different vantage point and have a different relationship. The approach can make a big difference in how you relate to your loved ones and the importance of empathy.”
Divinna hosts five-week classes throughout the area with upcoming classes Clinton and Cheshire. There is no charge for the classes and she is currently looking for a venue willing to donate space for a class in Madison.
Through one of her classes, Divinna found another passion in the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). One of the attendees suggested that Divinna attend a NAMI support group.
“They lassoed me into becoming part of it and then the people who were running it back then moved away and said, ‘You can do this,’” says Divinna, who has served as NAMI Shoreline’s president for the past several years. “I became president a couple years ago because it was handed to me, but it’s really a village.”
Divinna is quick to credit the other seven members of her board for the work they put into the group. She noted that while NAMI was founded in 1979, the Shoreline chapter wasn’t formed until 2012.
“Ours is fairly young and each year it grows a little bit—we’re just a small group of people who do the best we can,” says Divinna. “I have a great board and we’re like a family. We’re there for each other emotionally, we go to conferences together, and we’d love to get new people involved. We’re looking for people who have experience in web design and other areas, like Excel for organizing members or someone who’s good at fundraising.”
Board meetings are open to the public with the next meeting being scheduled for Monday, June 17. This weekend, NAMI Shoreline is participating in is the NAMI Connecticut Walk, which will be held in two locations, Bushnell Park in Hartford and Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m.
“A lot of the board shows up and they have teams, but we walk together,” says Divinna, whose team is called Kids Just Want to Be Heard. “I met my goal of $500 so I’ve upped it to $1,000. I always take my dog Waffles—I put a T-shirt on him and he’s a rockstar. The point of the walk is to get this out in the open and talk about it and bring awareness so people aren’t so afraid of the stigmas.”
Besides the board meetings and the annual walk, NAMI Shoreline’s biggest focus is providing support groups, including the Family to Family, which according to namict.org, is a “nationally recognized, free 12-week program that provides education on the neurobiological basis of serious mental illnesses, information, resources, and support for family members of individuals with serious mental illness based on the lived experiences of other family members. [The program] is delivered by trained volunteer family facilitators and is available throughout the state on a regular basis.”
While there are several trained facilitators working with NAMI Shoreline, Divinna’s goal is to add more. She noted that there is an upcoming free training to be held on Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15 at the Wisdom House in Litchfield. Applications are due by May 20. Once trained, the facilitators can lead the Family to Family program as well as support groups and other educational programs.
“With all of our programs, the facilitators have to be trained and every group has the same guidelines and model across the country,” says Divinna. “Everyone has chance to talk if they want to, the facilitators are trained to know how to keep thing moving and do creative activities.
“Our support groups in the area are very well-attended and there are other NAMI programs where people come talk about their personal experiences, people having trouble with addiction and other issues—it evolves as the need arises,” adds Divinna. “We also want to keep our Young Adult Community Connection support group going—it’s a peer support group that allows them to come together and heal.”
Oftentimes in the support groups, the Think:Kids’ Collaborative Problem Solving approach comes up. Divinna is thankful to the NAMI Shoreline board for its support of the program and her classes taught through Think:Kids.
“They meld together. [Collaborative Problem Solving] is not a NAMI signature program, but in Family to Family and NAMI Basics, it comes up as a way of communicating,” said Divinna. “It gives the idea of it and how it should sound as a way of communicating—not to be accusatory. Be curious, not furious.”
Outside of facilitating support groups and work as the president of the board for NAMI Shoreline and teaching Think:Kids classes, Divinna enjoys theater. She was involved with Artful Living, a community theater group in Killingworth, her hometown. Last year she performed in Beauty and the Beast. When not on stage, Divinna enjoys attending Broadway shows.
She and her husband of 32 years also enjoy traveling, especially when they can bring their dog, Waffles, along. Some of their favorite places are camping at Acadia National Park in Maine and visiting her sister in South Carolina.
When she isn’t enjoying theater and travel, Divinna is busy with her volunteer work with NAMI Shoreline and Think:Kids.
“The two things go hand in hand,” says Divinna. “It’s what I’m passionate about. I teach these [Think:Kids] classes for free about how to relate to challenging kids so you find out what’s going on instead of punishing them and teaching parents is incredibly rewarding. With the NAMI support groups, what’s great is the group wisdom—what works for people, what hasn’t. Just to know they’re not alone. It’s very comforting to know there’s someone who gets it.”
For info, visit thinkkids.org or namict.org or call 860-876-0236.
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