LONDONDERRY — To help local families, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Hampshire has brought two educational programs at the Avery Center on Pillsbury Road.

The Family to Family program, a 12-week training course for facilitators, began in October with 24 participants.

Now, a peer support group is being offered on the first and third Wednesdays of the month in the adjacent Westervelt Hall in the Londonderry Presbyterian Church. The group is for family members coping with an adult who has mental illness.

Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 15, Parents Meeting the Challenge will run for eight weeks from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Avery Center. It is being taught by Susan Allen-Samuel and Jennifer Richard of NH NAMI, based in Concord.

The program is designed for parents and primary caregivers of children and adolescents with emotional and/or behavioral disorders.

"This model for Parents Meeting the Challenge is unique to this state," Allen-Samuel said. "We give parents of children with mental illness the resources to empower themselves."

She said parents can often feel confused and helpless when trying to navigate the system.

"They feel like they're the only one with a child with mental illness," she said. "And they feel ashamed. It does still have a stigma — but it is a real illness, just like a physical illness."

Over the eight-week session, parents will learn how to advocate for their child's needs within the medical, educational and judicial systems.

"They will learn problem-solving strategies," Allen-Samuel said.

The Avery Center is a second location for the Derry Friendship Center that is more conducive for meeting with families and women.

Run by chairman Hiller "Mac" McCartin, the Avery Center is also part of the Londonderry Presbyterian Church's community outreach efforts, headed up by elder Al Hock.

McCartin said he is pleased to be able to offer the NAMI programs in Londonderry.

"NAMI is a great resource that many people don't really know about," he said. "They have been around for almost 30 years and are 96 percent volunteer staffed."

To register for the free Parents Meeting the Challenge Course, visit or call Allen-Samuel at 800-242-6264, Ext. 28.

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