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My name is Gigi Ackert. I am a model, certified personal trainer, bikini competitor, scuba diver, skydiver, and a mother. I have a 22 year old son whom I adore. I was born in Ambato, Ecuador where I lived and studied for 26 years. I have an Associate's Degree in English as a Second Language at the Universidad Técnica de Ambato, a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts, Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Spanish and Latin American Culture from Empire State College, and a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree from Empire State College I am walking for NAMI-NYS to raise awareness and to advocate for minority mental health. The stigma associated with mental health is a significant public health issue. I believe providing minorities with the resources and information about mental health can go a long way and can be very impactful.
Favorite quote: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to help others, as faithful stewards of God's Grace in its various forms. Peter 4:10
RoseMarie Andrews was born November 11, 1981 in Albany, NY. She grew up in the rural town of Berne, NY which was a traumatizing experience as a bi-racial child to her Italian Mother and African Father in the early 1980's. The oldest of four children, she held a large amount of responsibility due to her mother's mental health issues and her father being incarcerated most of her youth.
RoseMarie's family possessed many musical talents, except for her, which led her to both admire and resent her family's natural abilities as their creativity often led her in charge of all the mundane household chores. Amidst a turbulent and often unstable home and hostile school environment RoseMarie began to withdraw. With her withdrawal, RoseMarie coped by binge eating.
By age 30 she had been through several life hardships, and on top of that was suffering from poor body image. Through her hardships, she began to write small stories and poems which began to give her some relief and also had gained her attention from local poets. Her poetry had led her on to several accomplishments and to new things that she had never explored before.
By the end of 2017 RoseMarie was finding success and fulfillment in her new career of media and marketing, and decided to take some time to focus on her emotional and physical health. She realized she no longer wanted or needed the unhealthy coping mechanisms of her past and chose to act. RoseMarie started filming, Project: Shrinking Violet in November of 2017, a documentary chronicling her weight loss and empowerment journey. Her marketing trailer released on YouTube in February of 2019 garnished over 15,000 views in under 9 months. Her documentary is slated for a 2020 release as RoseMarie continues to pursue her passions.
Leslye Benson is an Albany resident who is the second oldest of six children, and has 13 nieces and nephews. She is currently in the process of redefining herself after going through several hardships within the last five years. In 2015 she had decided to begin an alkaline vegan diet which positively affected her health, as well as encouraged her to make and sell an all-natural detox tea and educate others about their health. As of October 2019 Leslye decided to take the leap and become an entrepreneur and focus on her business, Healthy Wealthy Creations/Lovely Vybez & Tarot Vybez Entity. Her ultimate goal is for all people to see there is no defeat when you realize you are the playing field!
Leslye is participating as a 2020 Off The Mask model because she believes this event embodies her current mindset as she is currently in the process of taking her own mask off, allowing her real self to shine and blossom! This event would be very liberating for her as she has never modeled before and from time to time still struggles with her own image issues.
Madeline: "I am 9-yrs old and I have a loving mom and dad. I have 2 brothers I love. I like ot help people. I do competitive dance and I love to have fun with everyone around me. I am participating in Off The Mask because I love to help other kids and adutls. I like to show that all of us can do something to help others. I'm so glad that I can help to raise money for NAMI again!"
Quentin: "I love karate, baseball, the outside (winter is my least favorite) and I like to have fun. I like to have friends over. I like to make new things from other things. I want to be an Off The Mask model because it will help other people here in New York which it also helps the world."
Carter: "I am an 11-yr old gymnast who really likes school and helping charity. I like to play video games and hang with my friends. I want to be an Off the Mask model because it will help people. It's going to be a great event to raise money for a great cause."
Ashley has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and works hard every day to maintain stability and to keep the disorder under control. Today, she is a litigation paralegal and takes great pride in her career and accomplishments. Growing up in Niskayuna, New York Ashley spent a lot of her time riding horses from the age of six, and has become a true passion of hers.
Hope is what saved Ashley. A specific documentary by Stephen Fry showed Ashley that others could live a life with bipolar. Until then she didn't believe she could ever be healthy again, or function in life at all. It was that documentary that gave Ashley hope and the ability to persevere, knowing that living a good life was possible. Ashley hopes that her story can show others that hope is real and is essential to recovery. Hope is what gets her through during the difficult periods of her bipolar disorder. That is when hope is needed the most and she is grateful for so many others showing her that hope is real and possible.
Peg was born and bred in the Hyde Park, New York Area. She has suffered from mental illness since a young child, and refuses to let that define her. Peg has been volunteering for NAMI Mid-Hudson since 2014. She is a Connections Support Group Facilitator, Peer-to-Peer Leader, In Our Own Voice Presenter, and is a State Connections Facilitator Trainer. Peg is a creative writer, loves to sing and model. Peg is walking the catwalk to stand up for what she believes in and can express it in a way that she already enjoys, which is modeling! Her favorite quote is "You can do it!"
Cara is a former archaeologist turned chemist full-time homesteader/woods woman. She is now a pet-sitter and volunteer for the Berkshire Bird Paradise and is going to be pursuing her Wildlife Rehabbers license.
Cara is excited to be an Off The Mask model because it will be a fun way to help others. If she is able to do something to help others, raise money, and make even one person's life better, it brings her great joy to do so.
I'm a NY based photographer and fitness trainer. My photography focuses on glamor, fashion, and portraiture. I discovered my interest for photography and fitness at an early age. Passionate to learn more, I moved to NYC to attend The Fashion Institute of Technology to pursue my AAS with a specialization in photography and to continue my fitness journey. I'm currently studying to become a certified personal trainer through NASM with a specialization in nutrition. I would like to be a 2020 Off The Mask Model because I have a strong passion for fashion.
Gwendolyn Empress Hayles is a loyal, outgoing, loving community advocate and fashion guru. Empress has always enjoyed all facets of fashion, being of service to others and turning pain into purpose which is the main reason she volunteered her services to NAMI. Volunteering for NAMI is an honor and she is delighted to provide her talents which will be an integral part in ensuring the event is executed to its maximum potential. Mental Wellness is something that is very near and dear to her and she feels it is imperative to have an outlet(s) to express your emotions individually and collectively. To maintain her mental wellness Empress utilizes fashion as an outlet which allows her to express herself creatively and without limit. Empress has had many experiences with various issues that could have easily lead her down a destructive path mentally but she utilizes fashion to rise above her obstacles and also uses her experiences to encourage others. Empress believes in utilizing her skillset and experiences as advocacy tools and is another great reason she volunteered her services to NAMI. Empress is a firm believer in the statement when the community thrives and is successful we all thrive and become successful. Her ultimate goal is for those suffering from mental illness to rise above adversity, turn pain into purpose, and use those experiences to not only become successful but to assist someone else along the way.
Hi! Last year I challenged myself to participate as a model ambassador for NAMI. This year I pushed harder to give my heart & soul as Co-Chair to make this event the success I believe it to be.
This new year continues to empower me. I'm one of millions who personally struggle with mental illness. The fuel behind my engine is my beautiful 16-year-old daughter who inspires me to fight through the darkest of days.
At 46, I strive to be a better version of who I was yesterday. I love my family, my friends & all who support with encouragement and without judgment. As the "average Jo" who doesn't come to the table with a list of accomplishments, a big name, money or power, I hope my actions & story will motivate another person like me to be hopeful and become involved.
Wishing you love & peace,
Mary Beth grew up predominately in Catskill, NY and currently resides in Troy, NY. Mary Beth has an extended family of three beautiful sisters and has a son of her own, who is 24. She has overcome several struggles that life has thrown at her, and in the midst of it all has successfully lost 125lbs on weight watchers. She has a strong passion for water aerobics and yoga. Mary Beth is a board member of NAMI Capital Region. She is walking the cat walk to show her pride of what she has overcome as well as to remind others that their lives matter!
Hi! My name is Emma Hughes, and I am 20 years old. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since the 5th grade. But since, I have found positive outlets to help me overcome the anxiety and depression which include: talking to my therapist, art, and participating in pageants. Pageantry has especially made a huge impact on my life. It's helped me conquer my fear of public speaking and meeting new people. I am modeling in Off the Mask 2020 to show that mental illness doesn't have to keep you down and that you can go out there on a stage and not be afraid to share your story.
Kate is currently a junior in high school at The Doane Stuart School. She has been a competitive gymnast since the 1st grade. Kate is very passionate about social justice and health issues, and participates in the Capital Region Institute for Human Rights Teen Summer Symposium. Kate has been raised to be compassionate, empathetic, and non-judgmental. She is walking the cat walk to be a NAMI-NYS Mental Health Ambassador and to support those who have been impacted by behavioral health challenges.
With over 35 years of experience in Nephrology, Internal medicine, and the optimal management of clozapine, I love being a physician. I involve myself in the total care of my patients. I am also a parent, husband, son, runner and co-author of Meaningful Recovery from Schizophrenia and Serious Mental Illness with Clozapine. Together with my wife Ann, also a physician; we started Team Daniel, a charity named after our son Daniel who has Schizophrenia. Daniel has thrived and lives a life of purpose and meaning. Robust recovery should be the norm, not the exception, for those struggling with mental health challenges.
George is an attorney and founding member of LaMarche Sanfranko Law PLLC. He represents individuals who have been seriously injured and families who have suffered the loss of a loved one because of the negligence of others. He also represents people who are under investigation or charged with a crime in both state and federal courts. George started his legal career in 2000 at a prestigious litigation law firm where he tried numerous personal injury and criminal cases and went on to become the youngest partner in the firm's history. In 2011 George founded LaMarche Law, PLLC before being joined by Andrew Safranko in 2012. George works tirelessly for his clients, with a commitment and a passion for achieving justice for them. He has recovered millions of dollars for those who have been injured, successfully protected the rights of those wrongly accused, and provided experiences counsel for those navigating the complexities of the legal system.
George is participating as a model in Off The Mask because he has been working with clients who find themselves in the criminal justice system often because of addiction and/or mental health issues for 20 years. He believes it is often very sad to see how an underlying, untreated addiction or mental illness impacts a person's choices. Where the criminal justice system sees punishment, George sees an opportunity for help, and that's what he tries to offer in his role as a lawyer for clients struggling with these issues.
Tony "Sewa" Marshall is a true champion in and out of the boxing ring. He uses his love for boxing to make a difference in the community. Tony is a current boxing coach and works with the youth to encourage them to rise to their best potential. As a former 3 time NABF American champion and 4 time IBC world champion Tony has earned the title of legendary. When he isn't committed to boxing he takes time to make a positive impact and that is why he chose to walk for this great cause. Mental illness is something that isn't talked about as much as it is needed and walking for NAMI will help us to start those important conversations.
Mark Mclean was born and raised in London, England, and at 18 years old he relocated across the pond to Brooklyn, New York where he enrolled in college and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. Mark began his career as a computer programmer at Merrill Lynch on the trade floor until he was recruited by the New York State Assembly in 1992 where he works as a manager to this day.
In his spare time, Mark enjoys bike riding, running, gardening and spending quality time with family and friends. Mark has been married to his wife Kathleen for 28 years. They have 4 children together: Danielle is 24 and a Certified Public Accountant, Christopher is a first-year student at Northwestern Law School, Sarah is a sophomore studying Advertising at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Tra'cee is a junior at Shaker High School.
Mark lives by the motto, "Actions speak louder than words." He is using action to stand up for mental illness awareness.
Lisa is a mother of two beautiful children and a loving wife. She has worked in Corporate America for 27 years in various capacities, but her passion falls within the health and fitness arena. She is a certified Mind & Body Expert, and helps executive women who are overwhelmed by stress. Lisa helps women regain their health and strength, both mentally and physically. Her mission is to help others understand mental illness and substance abuse by sharing her family's story.
Lisa is participating in Off The Mask because raising awareness and understanding mental health issues is her live's work. Finding new and innovative ways to introduce conversations about mental health is of the utmost importance to Lisa and she states, "Off the Mask is a shining example of that goal. It was an honor to participate in the initial Off the Mask and see the impact it had on people. I am looking forward to making the event bigger and more impactful in 2020 and beyond."
I became an advocate for mental health 17 years ago when our son experienced signs of emotional distress. We were just like many families who are blindsided by behavioral changes in their loved one. We were overwhelmed and unaware of what lay ahead. We listened as professionals predicted that our son would never achieve the dreams that he had for himself. They were wrong,
I found support through NAMI as so many people have. I registered for NAMI's Family to Family class along with my husband and I was hooked. I decided to give back after having been so well served by NAMI and was trained and taught Family to Family for years. I also chaired the College Outreach committee during a time when most institutes of higher learning managed students with mental health conditions by asking them to take leaves of absence - not so long ago. I have served on both the local Westchester Affiliate and New York State Boards. I served as President of NAMI Westchester. During my board tenure we began the local NAMIWalks that is now an annual event, created the NAMI Ribbon awareness program, expanded NAMI signature programs such as Family to Family, Ending the Silence, NAMI Basics, NAMI Connection and Family Support groups. I also served on the NAMI New York State Board and stepped off in November of 2019. I served on multiple committees. I am a passionate advocate and attend Legislature Day in Albany and Washington DC. I am an avid explorer of all things having to do with mental illness cases and treatment.
Our family has been very fortunate. Our son has recovered. He graduated from college and went on to receive certification in arts therapy. He is currently employed working with young adults with autism. He is a writer and a musician and uses both skills in his employment as well as public speaking.
I know that recovery from mental health disorders is possible. I am walking to let other people know that with the right care which includes community and family support people move on to lead productive lives. The family voices are getting stronger. Families make a difference.
I am an RN who began my career as an emergency room and ICU nurse. I am currently a school nurse. I have always been passionate about helping and educating others. I am currently on the NAMI Queens/Nassau Board and the NAMI NYS Board. I teach Family to Family classes, lead support groups, chair of the FaithNet committee and much more. It is an honor to be able to help others and touch lives.
Supporting NAMI and its impactful evidence based programs is very important to me. I believe that there is hope for everyone struggling with a mental health condition; that family is of utmost important and that NAMI's programs can make a difference is so many lives.
Gina is a single mother who is a survivor of domestic violence. She is currently in the process of rebuilding herself and is working on being the best self she can be, by focusing more on her physical and mental health. Gina has been very successful in making strides to a better physical self by losing over 100lbs. She has recently involved herself in modeling, and was in a major fashion show in April 2019. Gina is modeling in OTM to assist with her own personal growth and to support NAMI-NYS, which is very near and dear to her heart.
I am proud to be a mental health advocate and serve as the Associate Director, Public Affairs of NAMI-NYS, where I work to empower others who have struggled in the same way me and my family have. I suffered in silence and was ashamed of my mental illness for way too long and I don't want other people to feel that way. I am very honored to be recognized for my advocacy success by receiving the 2019 NAMI Advocacy Award and the 2020 STARR Advocate of the Year award, these awards are a testament to how strong the NAMI-NYS advocacy voice has become, our collective strength is the achievement I am most proud of. Finding my voice and helping others find theirs has made all my struggles worth it.
Raising awareness and understanding of mental health issues is my life's work. Finding new and innovative ways to introduce conversations about mental health is of the utmost importance to me and Off the Mask is a shining example of that goal. It was an honor to participate in the initial Off the Mask and see the impact it had on people. I am looking forward to making the event bigger and more impactful in 2020 and beyond.
I'm Asa. I have a house in the middle of the woods where I live with a woman and cats. I'm pretty good at making things and enjoy doing it. I also work as an engineer. Usually walking in a fashion show is not something that I would typically do, but I am trying to say "yes" to opportunities to help people and create positive social change and do my part to make things a little better.
In 1979 I made a very important move when I switched my plans from a surgery career to psychiatry. Since then, I've been blessed with 47 years of a very satisfying career, teaching and providing care to amazing patients, and working alongside some of the most talented and committed professionals one could ever be honored to work with. I have also been able, through this very enjoyable career path, to raise 8 wonderful children with my wife Anne and have been so happy to witness the stigma of mental illness fade, an important gift to all of our patients.
I'm 48 years old from Schenectady NY. I'm married (Sharon) and have 2 children (Kaleb 21 and Gabriella 17) I have a Service Dog named Tucker who's 9 years old. I was in the Marines for 8 years and the Army for 12 years, and retired in 2013. I work at Union College in the Registrar's Office. I belong to several veteran organizations (Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps League, STRIDE Wounded Warriors, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Wounded Warrior Project). I also help out with the Capital Region Veterans Memorial (Legacy Project), I do a fundraiser every year called the Marine Corps Birthday Bash, and I MC the Memorial Day Ceremony at Union College. Lastly I am a big Buffalo Bills fan?.
I have worked with many veterans with severe PTSD and Depression. When I became injured in 2008 I saw a different side of the military. Since about 2005, injured soldiers are assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit while they get their medical care. While being injured myself, I served as a Platoon Sergeant at a Community Based Warrior Transition Unit in Massachusetts. I did that for a year then worked in the administration at the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Drum NY for about another year while I was still injured and receiving care. I now volunteer for STRIDE Wounded Warriors in West Sand Lake NY as the Liaison for the program. I have struggled with depression since I was injured in 2008. I went from being an exceptional soldier and being in great physical shape, to not being able to do much physically. I hope to help end the stigma and bring awareness to mental illness and veteran suicide.
Named president and CEO of CDPHP in July of 2008 after serving more than 10 years as chair, vice chair, and board member of CDPHP. During this time, CDPHP has been recognized as one of the top-rated plans in the nation, has been named one of the Best Companies to Work for in New York for 11 consecutive years, and has ranked "Highest in Member Satisfaction among Commercial Health Plans in New York" in the J.D. Power Member Health Plan Study for the third consecutive year. Prior to joining CDPHP, Bennett served as founding member and CEO of Prime Care Physicians, PLLC. During his tenure, he co-led a team of 25 cardiologists and helped grow the practice to a 100-physician multi-specialty group. Bennett is board certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners and the American Board of Internal Medicine, with subspecialties in internal medicine and cardiology. He earned his medical degree at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, and a Bachelor of Science degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Bennett is currently board chair for the Center for Economic Growth and the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), and co-chair of the Palace Theatre board. He also serves on the boards of the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and The Sage Colleges. Bennett is a member of the New York Public Health and Health Planning Council, a position he was appointed to by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Well-known locally and nationally for advancing health care innovation, Bennett was recently named to the Tech Valley Business Hall of Fame. Before that, he was awarded the 2016 Marketer/Communicator of the Year award by the Capital Region chapters of the American Marketing Association and Public Relations Society of America. That same year, Bennett was also awarded the 2016 Promoting the Advancement of Technology in Healthcare (PATH) Award from the New York e-Health Collaborative (NYeC).
Bennett is walking in Off The Mask to support his daughter Jennifer Laflin, one of the organizers of this event. Also, to show his personal support for these affected by mental health disorders - and their families. Bennett's family history has given him great understanding of what it is like to live with loved ones with serious mental illness. He has been there - as a child - and made it out!
If you asked me to describe myself, I would tell you I am a musician, hardcore dork (dad jokes are my specialty), entrepreneur, insanely passionate creative, song-writer, model, and just overall lover of people. My ultimate goals in life are to spread kindness, help people, share messages of self-reflection and self-love through my music, and build up everyone around me on the daily.
As someone who holds the campaign #endthestigma so close to their heart, being a 2020 Off The Mask Model would fill my life up with so much joy. To be able to embrace this message in such a public light, and encourage even more people to welcome it into their lives on a large platform, would be a phenomenal honor. I stand for everything and anything that supports ending the stigma of mental health, and raising awareness for mental illness's of all shapes and colors.
Pooja Mehta is an outspoken South Asian Mental Health Advocate, and has been telling her story to audiences across the country for the last 5 years. Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, Pooja got her degree in biology from Duke University, and is currently getting her Masters in Public Health from Columbia University. Her advocacy work has been featured in a variety of podcasts and articles, including in Saathee Magazine, the Mighty, and the Advocate. In her spare time, Pooja enjoys cooking, watching documentaries, and playing with her cat, Pepper.
Pooja wants to be a 2020 off the mask ambassador because she is so passionate about changing the way people talk and think about mental illnesses, and would love to have another platform on which to make change. She has been involved with NAMI in some capacity since she was 18, and as a current board member, is excited to get involved in any initiatives that she can.
My name is Sarah E. Hutchinson, I was born in Hudson, NY on November 25th, 1989 to Lynda & Donald Hutchinson. My parents divorced when I was 2 and we went to go live with my Grandmother in Chatham, NY. My Mother remarried when I was about 5 years old. That same year, I had experienced severe hardships, from being sexually abused to severely bullied in school. Despite these huge challenges, I thoroughly enjoyed school and was high honors student. Although, I was doing well in school, my dyslexia became a struggle and my hardships from my past were catching up to me and began to have a negative impact on my performance in school. In addition to my grades slipping, I began to feel unmotivated and started to have a poor self-image due to my past. I was not sleeping or eating for long periods of time, which is when I knew something was not right. At age 15, I was diagnosed as bi-polar and felt like I became misunderstood by doctors and was not getting the proper treatment that I needed. Through my frustration, I began to spend a lot of time doing research in hopes of finding more answers and proper treatment. I was fighting for my life, and by age 25, from my own research I realized that I had depression due to my early childhood traumas. With this discovery, I was able to get the proper treatment that I needed and make a turnaround in my life. I began the survivors club for trauma victims, finished my movie script, and began going to school for my psychology doctorate.
My current goals are to get into film, become a psychology researcher to help build better diagnostics & treatment options and to be the best parent I can for my children. Some of my favorite quotes that I like to share with others are: "Mental Health is About All of Us, Not Just Some of Us" and "A Question that sometimes drives me hazy - am I or the others crazy", Albert Einstein.
The reason that I am walking in Off The Mask is because I enjoy being helpful, but this advocacy is very personal to me. It's also part of what I'm looking into for work. My script Crazy is me putting in my own part to help the stigma of mental health. What I like the most about the quote I wanted to share was that Mental Health is not just about the mentally ill. It's about all of us taking care of our mind as much as we do our bodies. Mental Health is another part of Self Care.
I am 23 years old, born and raised in Upstate New York. I currently hold the title for Miss New York Supranational USA 2020 and will be competing for the national title in June. My biggest dream is to become a professional model, and bring awareness to the importance of speaking and learning about mental health and mental illness.
I am one of the most compassionate and empathetic people, I know what it is like to feel as if you are not enough due to your mental illness consuming your thoughts. Teaching people self love and care is always a goal of mine. Being a 2020 Off The Mask Model and Mental Health Ambassador would mean the world to me, it is such an honorable title and I would love to use it to spread even more awareness.
I am 13 years old and just finishing 8th grade. I enjoy playing all sports but my favorites are basketball and track. Even though school can get boring, I love social studies and math. I enjoy singing and music in general which helps me get motivated while playing sports.
It takes a lot of courage to show your true self to others. Not one of us is perfect but sometimes people can become judgmental on someone when they are struggling. When someone is dealing with mental illness and allows you into their life they need to be respected and understood. "Taking off the mask" and being who you are takes a strong person- these are people I want to support. This is what NAMI is about.