NAMI Virginia’s staff works hard to provide support, education, and advocacy to improve the lives of all those affected by mental illness.
Executive Director: Rhonda Thissen
Rhonda joined NAMI Virginia as Executive Director in September 2017 after 12 years with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, where she worked from the state level to develop and evaluate services for individuals affected by behavioral health challenges. She has been a longtime supporter of NAMI and its programming, and is excited to join the team at NAMI Virginia to further its work towards eliminating the stigma of mental illness and promoting recovery and resilience for those affected.
Rhonda earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Psychology from the University of North Carolina and a Master’s in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work, where she is now an adjunct professor. During her career as a professional social worker, she has worked for both public agencies and non-profit organizations on a wide range of issues, including promoting access to primary medical and behavioral health care, improving economic opportunities in underserved communities, developing and coordinating affordable housing and homeless services, domestic violence intervention, and HIV/AIDS care.
Rhonda has a particular passion for NAMI’s work as she has personally experienced mental health and trauma challenges. For this reason, a career in the behavioral health field was always her professional aspiration; she believes that people who work in helping professions often choose their profession as a result of personal experience, and that experience brings a wisdom and understanding that can be invaluable in systems change.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 200
Accountant and Director of Finance: Deborah Michael
Deborah Michael has worked for NAMI Virginia as Director of Finance since 2006. In this capacity she is responsible for conducting invoice activities, paying vendors, assisting with budget preparations, managing payroll, and various related tasks related to the financial health of NAMI Virginia. Prior to that she served on the Board of NAMI Virginia as Treasurer. She has also held the offices of President and Treasurer of the affiliate, NAMI Central Virginia. Her volunteer work includes many years with the Historic Richmond Foundation, presidency of the William Byrd Community House Junior Board and tutoring at George Mason elementary school. Deborah received a B.A. in math from Sweet Briar College and a Certificate in Accounting from VCU.
Director of Adult and Family Program: Mary Beth Walsh
Mary Beth graduated from James Madison University with a B.A. in Theater. After graduation, she spent 4 years acting in educational shows for children across the country. Although she loves theater, her other passion lies in community outreach and education. She is excited to be able to incorporate those interests with an issue that is close to her heart.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 206
Director of Children and Youth Programs: Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson, MSW, joined NAMI Virginia in June of 2009 after interning with the organization. Her initial role with NAMI Virginia centered around program development. She served as the Director of Adult and Family Programs until 2016 helping to expand NAMI’s signature programs in partnership with NAMI’s network of local affiliates. In 2016, Sarah moved into the role of Events and Outreach where she oversaw NAMI’s outreach to the community, including the HelpLine and major events such as NAMIWalks, Advocacy Day and the State Convention. Sarah took on a new venture with NAMI Virginia as the Director of Children and Youth Programs in February 2017. Before coming to NAMI, Sarah managed a Suicide and Crisis Hotline, worked as a phone case manager in the emergency services department of a Community Services Board, coordinated a visiting service for isolated seniors and worked as a community organizer for a personal care association.
Sarah received her Master’s in Social Work-Administration, Planning, and Policy Practice from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and has a Certificate in Volunteer Administration by the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration. Sarah completed the Emerging Nonprofit Leadership Program through VCU and the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence in 2012.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 203
Youth and Young Adult Programs Coordinator: Amanda Long
Joining our team in February 2013, Amanda’s passion for mental health has stemmed from both personal and community based experiences. She holds a Masters degree in Social Work Administration, Planning, and Policy Practice and a Bachelor’s of Social Work with a minor in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to joining the NAMI team, Amanda worked as a Special Events Assistant at United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg and as a Classroom Behavioral Counselor at UMFS. Through her experience as a personal care attendant and volunteer at numerous community organizations throughout the city, she also brings a wealth of knowledge in working with individuals who have a wide range of strengths and abilities. Amanda’s greatest passion lies within community outreach and education. Based on both personal and family experience, she is dedicated to improving the lives of young people affected by mental illness throughout the state.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 211
Development Associate: Jamie C. Burch
Jamie Burch joined our team in 2017 as NAMI Virginia’s Development Associate and NAMIWalks Manager. Jamie received her Master’s from Virginia Commonwealth University in Social Work Administration, Planning and Policy Practice. While attending her graduate program, she was awarded for her research on LGBTQ youth in Richmond, and selected as a Social Work Policy Fellow. Jamie also participated in the Sorenson Institute’s Emerging Leaders Program, where she collaborated with other young leaders to craft legislation to be introduced to the Virginia General Assembly in 2018.
Jamie is the point of contact for NAMI membership inquiries and processing, office administration, donor acknowledgements, and last but not least logistics and team fundraising for NAMIWalks Virginia.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 209
Program Assistant: Melissa Hammack
Melissa is the Program Assistant for Children and Youth Programs and Adult and Family Programs. She also oversees the NAMI Virginia Helpline. She joined NAMI Virginia in March 2017 but has a long history of involvement with NAMI Virginia, including serving on the Virginia Family Network’s Parent Advisory Board and serving as co-facilitator for a NAMI Central Virginia Family Support Group for parents.
Melissa has previously served as a Family Navigator, helping parents find support and resources for their children with mental health needs. She is also a certified Family Support Partner. Her work is informed not only by her personal and family experience with mental illness, but also by her deep passion for mental health advocacy and awareness. She is driven by her belief in the importance of early intervention and the desire to erase the stigma attached to mental health conditions.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 205
Administrative Assistant: Danny Aldred
Danny Aldred has been the Administrative Assistant at NAMI Virginia since 1998. Danny serves as point of contact for general NAMI operations and is responsible for office administration, as well as many other tasks necessary to maintain the flow of communication between the organization, affiliates, and community partners. Danny has received specialized training from Virginia Commonwealth University, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, and the Nonprofit Learning Point.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 201
MSW Program and Policy Intern: Genesee Little
Genesee joined the NAMI Virginia team in late August 2017 and will intern with the organization through May 2018. She graduated with her Bachelor of the Arts in Human Development from Virginia Tech in 2016. During her time with NAMI she will fill a variety of roles such as organizing Advocacy Day, compiling the results of the Annual Membership Survey and assisting with the Helpline. She will also work on developing and updating the bill chart for the website in the upcoming General Assembly session. One fun fact about Genesee is her love for caving or exploring underground in wild “non-show” caves (otherwise known as spelunking). Upon completing her internship, she hopes to discover the most effective avenue for pursuing her career passion. Ultimately, she’s committed to decreasing the high number of individuals living with mental illness in our nation’s jails and prisons.
Phone: (804) 285-8264 ext. 202