FAIR LAWN, N.J.– Tammy Irwin-Smith of Fair Lawn tries to get at least six hours of sleep every night.
That isn't always easy for a single mom who is in school full-time, works part-time and is the chairwoman for Fair Lawn's Stigma-Free task force.
"I wish I had more hours in the day," she said.
Irwin-Smith wakes up at 4:30 a.m. – two hours before her 6-year-old, Justin – to get her work done.
"This way I get an extra 14 hours a week," said Irwin-Smith, 43, a per diem case manager for CarePlus Paramus who prides herself on organization and keeps a to-do list to map out her days.
That wasn't always the case.
The Paramus native studied at Bergen Community College in her 20s before quitting school.
"I was trying to find myself," she said.
Irwin always considered herself a mental health advocate, so she volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness .
"We all struggle," she said. "If people talked about it, it would reduce the stigma."
Irwin-Smith went back to school and studied social work at Ramapo College once Justin was enrolled in pre-K.
She earned her bachelor's in December and is attending graduate school at New York University, where she expects to graduate in May.
"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now," she said.
Irwin-Smith got involved with Stigma-Free after she saw Facebook posts about it and attended a county-wide event.
"It's a cause that’s near and dear to my heart," Irwin-Smith said. "I advocate for other people. My life hasn’t always been easy. I went through a divorce. Being a single mom and wanting to help others through difficult situations, I thought it was a calling to inspire people to rise above their adversities.
"I like to talk to people, so I'm out making connections wherever I can," she added.
Fair Lawn's Stigma-Free group held a town mental health first aid training event in May. The group had a resource table at the Radburn Street Festival.
Irwin-Smith and other members marched in Ridgewood's Fourth of July parade wearing green t-shirts and holding signs that said: "Proud to be stigma-free."
Irwin-Smith wants to create a Stigma-Free newsletter this fall and for the organization to gain a more active presence in Fair Lawn's schools.
"No one should have to suffer in silence or alone," she said. "Labels belong on jars, not on people."
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