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Niemi honored by state association

The Minnesota Association for Children's Mental Health Board of Directors has chosen Jessica Croatt Niemi of Bemidji to receive the 2010 MACMH Outstanding Service Award in the category of Mental Health Professional.

The ACMH on an annual basis recognizes individuals who have shown extraordinary achievement and/or leadership in the field of children's mental health.

Niemi is a family therapist specializing in early childhood at Stellher Human Services and serves on the Northwest Minnesota Foundation's Thrive Initiative team.

A local reception to honor her achievement was held Jan. 27 in Bemidji. The official MACMH award celebration will take place Feb. 11 in St. Paul.

As stated in Niemi's nomination from the local Thrive Initiative, "Jessica is a skilled and compassionate therapist in infant and early childhood mental health. She uses innovation to develop effective new programs, collaborates for improved service to families and better use of scarce rural resources. She has continued her own learning while taking on responsibilities for training others and serving on statewide association boards and Minnesota Department of Human Services committees. Her work has expanded the field of infant and early childhood mental health in her multi-county, rural region.

"Jessica has effectively worked with local organizations in helping to tailor programs and services which meet the specific needs of the clients served by that organization," the nomination letter continued. "She has used her expertise to develop a highly successful filial therapy program for infants and toddlers and their parents. Named The Family Toybox, it is a family skills therapy group that delivers services in a manner that is respectful, enjoyable and encourages parents to become partners in helping their children. The Family Toybox has served young children and parents in many small communities, in an area where there is very limited access to mental health services."

"Many requests and referrals come from parents, physicians, collaboratives, tribal agencies and early childhood professionals demonstrating the need for these services," said Larry Ellingson, Stellher Human Services CEO and director.

Lin Backstrom, Northwest Minnesota Foundation Early Childhood program manager, has worked with Niemi through her membership on NMF's Thrive Initiative Team.

"Jessica has touched the whole continuum of care in early mental health, from promotion of healthy development and prevention of problems, to providing the serious help some families require," Backstrom said. "Jessica will make the time to call or visit a parent in need. Her caring, respectful approach breaks down the barriers families might perceive in seeking help. She never loses sight of her mission, while also always seeing the scope of her profession."

As a part of the early cohort of clinicians trained in early childhood mental health, Niemi has been in the forefront of regional and state collaborations that are working to raise awareness of the importance of early identification of emotional and behavioral issues. She has distinguished herself as a leader and as a highly skilled mental health professional.

Niemi was among the early leaders supporting the creation of the Minnesota Association for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, actively participating in strategic planning and the first advisory board. She went on to chair MAIECMH's Training Committee.

"Jessica is highly deserving of this honor as she represents a person who continually strives for clinical excellence personally and manages to elevate the efforts of others through her generous sharing of knowledge and expertise with fellow collaborative members," said Jean Christensen, the Thrive Action team manager.

The award recipients will be honored Feb. 11 at MACMH's Fine Art and Award Celebration at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

More information about the celebration is online at

The Minnesota Thrive Initiative is a statewide effort promoting the healthy social and emotional development of young children. The Northwest Minnesota Foundation leads a team of a cross-section of local individuals who care for and about young children and their families in Bemidji, Blackduck and Kelliher.