This week, staff writer Maggie Westerman talks with Marie Onukiavage about the upcoming Evening of Hope, presented by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Residence: Archbald

Title/professional background: Executive director of the Scranton and Northeast Region affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness

Q: What’s the inspiration behind this event?

A: Owen Dougherty, the NAMI Scranton and Northeast Region board president, looked around and noted that of all of the wonderful galas and celebrations in our area, there were none that had mental health or mental illness as a central focus. The NAMI board agreed that we should recognize the great strides that have been made in the areas of treatment and recovery and also how far we still have to go to help build better lives for people affected by mental illness. We want to help people find help, find hope and, until there is a cure, find NAMI.

Q: Who will the event honor?

A: This year’s Evening of Hope will celebrate and honor those who have brought advocacy and awareness to mental health. Our honorary chairperson is Steven J. Scheinman, M.D., president and dean of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. The event also will recognize this year’s NAMI Candlelight Award winners, Scott Constantini of the Wright Center and Valley View Middle School teacher Kyleen Scavazzo as well as the NAMI Crisis Intervention Team Leadership Award winner, Scranton Police Officer Paul Tomczyk. All three individuals are recognized for efforts and actions that have made a difference in the lives of people with mental illness.

Q: How will proceeds be used?

A: Funds raised support NAMI’s efforts in the community to build better lives for persons affected by mental illness through our support and education programs and the Recovery Fund. The Recovery Fund provides funds to support the mental health recovery efforts of organizations in our community, such as a double oven to a local psych rehab program and a desktop computer to a mental health drop-in center.

Q: Why is community support crucial?

A: There are no events in our NEPA community that celebrate the great strides that have been made in mental health treatment and recovery. There is no doubt that mental illness is preventable or treatable. Having an event that focuses on mental illness and mental health can help end the stigma around mental health and help people to find hope.

If you go

What: Ninth annual Evening of Hope, presented by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Scranton & Northeast Region affiliate

When: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: DeNaples Center at University of Scranton, Mulberry Street

Details: Tickets cost $60 and are available through Proceeds benefit local mental health programs. For more information, call 570-342-1047 or visit