June 2009         

Karel Oxley with her mother

Karel Oxley knows what works to help children achieve academic success.  As superintendent of Lima City Schools, Karel sees children who once struggled to meet minimum standards succeed and thrive in the classroom.  How is this possible?  The answer can be as simple as addressing the mental health needs of a child and the child’s family. 

Karel knows how mental illness in a family can impact a child.  She knows because she has lived it.  As the youngest of three children by a number of years, Karel enjoyed a close relationship with her parents.  Her mother was always there for her, as was her father.  She relished her family time and her parents’ attention.  

While in college, Karel’s relationship with her mother changed.  “Mom just disappeared from my life for over a year.  I couldn’t understand it.  I felt abandoned because it didn’t make sense.  I felt it must have been something I did,” Karel remembered.  

It clearly appeared that she had forgotten she had a daughter.

Karel eventually learned that her mother’s absence from her life was due to the treatment that she was receiving for her major depression, the side effects of which affected her mother’s memory.  It clearly appeared that she had forgotten she had a daughter. Fortunately, the treatment was successful and Karel and her mother were able to become a vital part of each other’s lives once again.  However, Karel never forgot the terrible feelings of abandonment that she had experienced.  

“When I graduated from college, I vowed that I would do what I could to help others avoid the pain that I had experienced,” Karel said.   So, armed with her mission and faced with schools with deteriorating academic success, Karel Oxley, daughter and school superintendent, set out to find an answer to this question, “How do we give families the tools they need to survive whatever life gives them?”

She found the answer at Freedom Elementary, a local school in dire need of help.  State tests designed to assess student progress in key academic areas showed the school failing miserably.  It was not a challenge to determine children were failing because they had both academic and non-academic needs that were going unaddressed.  A program to address the needs of the family rather than simply the needs of the child was seen as a pathway to success.  

The program Freedom Elementary developed relied on a “Community Table” approach that would bring mental health, social services, the families and the school to the same table to identify and address the needs of families.   Unfortunately, the community was short $7500 to keep the program up and running when the shortfall hit.  Finding the funds became a mission of the community partners, who decided to stage a Community Follies.  Perhaps seeing the local school superintendent, mental health board director, and human services director embarrass themselves in a talent contest was all the proof that families needed of their commitment to the community! 

"... and you remember--it's about the kids, the families and trust."

Four years after the program was established, Freedom Elementary moved from an Ohio Department of Education rating of “academic emergency” to “academic excellence”. 

When challenged with the question, “How do we give families what they need to survive whatever life gives them?” Karel answered with conviction, “You bring everyone together with the tools to help, and you listen to the families tell you what they need, and you remember--it’s all about the kids, the families and trust.”


This Saturday, communities throughout Ohio will be holding parades to celebrate our nation’s birthday.   Legislators who will be making critical funding decisions that will impact mental health services will be at those parades.  The Coalition for Healthy Communities, of which NAMI Ohio is a member, is calling on all advocates of mental health and alcohol and other drug services to continue to press home the point that Ohio citizens need the benefits of the behavioral health system fully funded at the House of Representatives level.

1. Organize a group of recovery advocates to make signs to hold during the parade.  Signs should say:

a.      INVEST WISELY!  Fund Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services

b.      $1 Spent on Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Saves $11 Tax Dollars

c.       Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services SAVE LIVES!!

2.  Attend the parade and meet at a designated time and location.
3.  Let people know you’re there!  Be loud and make sure any public officials, especially legislators, see your signs and hear your chants.
4. Have one of your group take video (AVI files or QuickTime for Macs) and/or photos (jpegs).  Not a lot; just a couple minutes or 5-6 photos will do
5. Get video of a couple people explaining why Ohio should fund Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services and what will happen if the
services are cut.  Short “soundbite” comments are best.
6. Email the pictures and video to this email address:  (amiohio@amiohio.org)
7. NOTE:  When possible, include people’s names and hometowns in the email.
8. SPECIAL NOTE:  We need the video and photos NO LATER THAN MONDAY, JULY 6th.


Stigma Busting Challenge: Do you know someone who is isolated or lonely?  Invite them over for ice cream or take them to a local fireworks display.