Our non-profit charitable corporation is called NISA, which is short for “Northern Initiative for Social Action” and was established on July 16, 1998. NISA serves an underprivileged and somewhat marginalized group, which often goes by the term, “consumer/survivor”. A consumer/survivor is anyone who has used or is using mental health services, or self-identifies as having lived experience of mental illness. NISA not only serves consumers/survivors, but its membership and board consist of consumers/survivors as well. Although NISA was established in 1998, the model grew out of Participatory Action Research done in conjunction with a North Bay Regional Health Centre (NBRHC) Occupational Therapist/Clinical Researcher. The ParNorth Research Unit has been active since 1997. The Writer’s Circle also begun in 1997 with a newsletter named “Open Minds”. This led to a 20-page psycho-literary journal called Open Minds Quarterly, which was first produced in May of 1999 once NISA was already incorporated. These are the two programs that began with a volunteer group of consumer/survivors prior to incorporation.
In the early years, NISA established a partnership with NBRHC. This partnership enabled NISA to secure space and other gifts-in-kind and the opportunity needed to foster a healthy relationship with the community. The services of a NBRHC Occupational Therapist, was made available to NISA. NBRHC also provided operational funding for staff, who are all people with lived experience of mental illness. These dollars were bridge funding provided from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. The funding was not considered ongoing and was renegotiated yearly. Through time, NISA developed additional programming that allowed consumer/survivors to participate in meaningful activity while making contributions to both their own development and to society. More information on these additional programs can be found in our Program Descriptions section. In 2007 NISA programs received permanent funding from the Ministry of Health (now the North East Local Health Integration Network – NELHIN) enabling the organization to continue providing consumer/survivors with access to a variety of unique occupational programs that allow them to grow personally and contribute at a societal level.
In 2010, a Consumer Services Advisory Group began consultations on the needs of consumers within our city. It was decided that NISA would be provided extra funding to provide an increased level of service within the community. Also, in 2011, the NELHIN provided funding to NISA to run a Regional Warm Line, which provides an option for mental health and addiction consumers to call for a listening ear prior to a crisis.
NISA continues to grow and change with every passing year. Our programs and the funding provided show the need for these critical services within the community, most specifically those that are provided from a consumer perspective.