NAMI Ohio President Lovell Custard brings broad professional social service and intimate personal mental health experience to the job of steering the state’s largest mental head advocacy organization.
Lovell, a native of Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, became president earlier this year, replacing Joyce Campbell, a Fairfield Municipal Court Judge and president of the national NAMI organization. Judge Campbell remains on the state board.
Lovell, 57, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Murtis Taylor Human Services System, a large Cuyahoga County organization providing behavioral health, addiction, youth, family, residential and senior services at 12 locations to more than 12,000 people.
Lovell and his wife, Nancy, who have been married for 25 years, live in Cleveland.
Lovell said assuring Ohioans with mental illness receive all services, including housing, food, and basic human needs, “is the foundation for recovery and treatment. You can provide all the case management, therapy, and medication, but if a person doesn’t have a safe place to lay their head at night, food and clothing, it’s not going to work.”
Murtis Taylor recognizes the most basic human need for food by providing meals for people who come for services, in part because mental health medications require the person to eat when taking them.
Services for the mentally ill beyond treatment, especially housing, will be a focus during his tenure as president, Lovell said. He noted that NAMI Ohio may get involved directly in providing housing instead of solely supporting housing programs and projects as in the past.
“We’ve been doing a lot housing,” he said, “but it comes to a point where we’re just not moving fast enough.” Compared to the need, he said, “it’s still only a drop in the bucket.”
NAMI Ohio Executive Director Luke Russell said, “Lovell is not just an advocate but a veteran of providing services and supports. He knows people and families can only recover if they have community support and housing with treatment being provided.”
Russell said Lovell is “on the frontlines in the community and he sees the connection between physical health and needs as it relates to mental health. He is passionate about serving the whole person.”
NAMI Ohio advocates for housing as part of person-centered mental health,” Russell said. “People need safety, security, and community as part of their recovery journey. It is naive to believe someone can thrive with treatment alone, we have to start prioritizing housing, day services, and care coordination.”
Lovell was one of three children born to Kenneth and Donna Custard. One of his two sisters, Donna Johnson, suffered from severe and persistent mental illness and died in 2008 at the age of 46.
“I grew up in a family that didn’t know a lot about mental illness and treatment,” Lovell said. He was working in business management, having earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he returned to college to get a second bachelor’s in social work, in part due to the influence of his sister’s illness.
Lovell’s reached out to NAMI of Greater Cleveland seeking information and help for his sister. The organization eventually asked him to serve on the board.
“It was something I believed in, and I was interested in learning more about mental health.”
Lovell joined the NAMI Ohio Board in 2008, became second vice president in 2018, first vice president in 2020, and president on July 1, 2023.
His experience prior to Murtis Taylor includes working at the Center for Families and Children directing Project Safe Harbor, managing operations of the Central District of the YMCA of Greater Cleveland, and serving as head of Marketing and Development of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
He also serves on several other boards and was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2022 as Expert Advisor to the OneOhio Recovery Foundation.