Northern Initiative for Social Action founder reflects on 25 years

Alex Radway, an addiction survivor and founder of the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA), said he still remembers the moment his life changed with a job interview in 1998.

The bulletin called for volunteers as part of a research project about addiction and mental health with a chance at employment.

“We basically wanted to start an organisation that would help reduce the revolving door effect of the hospitals,” he said.

Radway, who co-founded NISA as a volunteer, added the early idea was to create a social space in which to share experiences of addiction and mental health challenges.

This year, NISA marks its 25th anniversary. It was established on July 28, 1998, just a year after the idea was conceptualized.

“I didn’t believe it was going to work out. I thought it was too almost clinical,” he said.

According to Radway, they secured a building for a dollar a year.

After NISA opened its space, more addiction survivors and people facing mental health challenges came to connect over activities and occupational rehabilitation.

Its Regional Warm Line (1-866-856-9276[WARM]) was established to offer mental health support daily from 6 p.m. to midnight, with the exception of statutory holidays.

‘I found recovery myself’

The program grew with an artists’ loft, writer’s circle and a quilting program that still runs today.

“People are sharing their life stories and their challenges, their issues and basically finding recovery,” he said.

“I found recovery myself as a volunteer for a little over 12 years and now as a staff member.”

NISA published The Dictionary of Madness in 2020 and uses new words to illustrate sensations and emotions related to mental health. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

The regular turnout would kick start research with co-founders Bob Seminyak, Karen Rebeiro and Derek Day, who met Radway at his job interview prior to conceiving the idea of NISA in 1997.

NISA used its peer support approach along with its messaging of mental health across the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, they highlighted Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a growing clinical depression and encouraged people to prepare options for support during lockdowns at home.

NISA also published The Dictionary of Madness book, as a tie-in with Bell Let’s Talk Day to illustrate sensations and emotions related to mental health.

Radway told CBC Sudbury he continues to work at NISA and tries to avoid being overwhelmed by publicity.

“The 25 years has really been special. I made a lot of friends along the way. I’ve lost a lot of friends to their passings. But life moves on.” he said.

“It’s been quite a journey to watch people doing good, doing bad and trying to do good.”

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