Meet NAMI Ohio Board Member, Valerie Walker
From the time she was a child, Valerie Walker liked taking care of those in need, especially children. She learned it from her mother, Vellier, who was active in church outreach, and her father, Herbert, who volunteered with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Cincinnati.
“I think it’s just who I am,” Valerie said. “My thing is taking care of people.”
Valerie wears many hats: parent, accountant, minister, church volunteer, homeless advocate, and board member for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio.
Despite many accomplishments, Valerie is modest and soft-spoken. “It’s not about me. It’s about ‘we,’” she said.
The Cincinnati native’s passion, as she puts it, is to “encourage, advocate, support and educate those living with a mental illness and their loved ones especially those experiencing homelessness in our communities.”
She was raised in a Christian family and is the oldest of seven children. Valerie’s parents “taught me to give back from an early age,” she said.
Her efforts to help the homeless, especially children, are focused through the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, a 30-year old organization that began when a handful of Cincinnati-area churches and synagogues opened their doors to homeless families. The network now has more than 100 congregational partners representing all faiths, funding from the United Way and City of Cincinnati, and provides overnight shelter, food, daycare, and other services to homeless families.
Homeless children touch Valerie’s heart the most, especially since the COVID-19 virus plagued the community beginning last year.
“The children have lost their home and they don’t know why,” she said. “They’ve lost their friends. They have to learn to wear a mask. Their parents are home or out of work and more children are suffering.”
“My concern is their mental health,” said Valerie who has been on the NAMI Ohio Board and co-chair of NAMI Urban Greater Cincinnati since 2017. “They lost connection with their schools and their friends. Many parents are frustrated and angry. There are so many untold stories.”
Valerie and her colleagues have parties and pizza nights for kids to relieve a bit of the sadness kids suffer from losing their homes and stability.
Valerie, the parent of two children herself, said NAMI and other groups are pushing to help kids by ensuring there is a mental health provider available at every school. That help is needed regularly, she said, not just when a child acts out and gets sent to juvenile detention. By then, problems have started that could potentially have been averted by early intervention.
There is hope for the future, Valerie believes, because she has watched Gov. Mike DeWine provide increased funding and support for mental health programs in general and for children in particular.”
“I know he’s a person that cares,” she said.
Information about the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati is available online at https://ihncincinnati.org/
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