The stables at 524 Fehr Road in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, probably smell like any other barn. Crisp hay, horses’ dung and withered leather waft through the warm air with no chance of escape. The murmurs of horses softly land on the creaked wood, reflecting equine thoughts from shadowed cages. Often, the wind reaps through the stables, forcing soft thumps from loose stable doors.
A woman strolls through the pathway of the barn. With kind eyes and a wide smile, she dons breeches and a helmet, entangling from her mind the events to follow that day. She breathes slowly, deeply, calmly. For Maggie Murphy, this barn is a place of peace, a place where she combines her love for equestrianism with her passion for helping others.
Hailing from New Jersey, Maggie Murphy is an impetus for good in the Lehigh Valley. She works as the executive director for the Lehigh Valley affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. In her professional life, Murphy works tirelessly to combat the stigma around mental health issues. In her personal life, Murphy continues fighting for people with both physical and mental disabilities.
“I love going out into the community and talking to individuals or groups of people about mental health and what some of the myths and realities are,” Murphy said. “If we change that stigma, we change how people feel about themselves.”
Murphy, who lives with anxiety and depression, is the first-ever full-time director at NAMI Lehigh Valley. She used to work as a volunteer director in palliative care, but she made the transition to mental health in hopes of changing the negative stigma that surrounds mental illness. In her four years at NAMI Lehigh Valley, Murphy has transformed the organization.
Diane Gilroy, chair of the board of NAMI Lehigh Valley, has worked closely with Murphy ever since she was hired as executive director.
“Maggie brought professionalism, leadership, business acumen about organizational structure, especially for nonprofit organizations, and she has strengthened our relationships with funders,” Gilroy said. “She has raised the visibility of NAMI Lehigh Valley in the Lehigh Valley region and beyond.”
State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) believes that, in terms of mental health, the Lehigh Valley is in better shape than most, and he credits Murphy and NAMI Lehigh Valley for changing the stigma in the area. A primary issue for Schlossberg’s political platform is combating mental health and the stigma surrounding it.
“I think she took that organization to a new level,” he said. “Maggie is smart and experienced and detail-oriented enough to understand that a group like NAMI has to do more than just focus on the mentally ill. They have to focus on the general population.”
Schlossberg recommended Murphy to NAMI Lehigh Valley to be the executive director.
“Whenever there is a mental health issue in the Valley, (NAMI) is the first first group that I think people turn to, and a lot of that is because of the work that Maggie has done,” he said.
Murphy’s work at NAMI is notably reflected in her work as a volunteer. She has found immense amounts of fulfillment, combining her love for horses with her undying drive to improve the lives of others.
Murphy has been an avid rider throughout her entire life. She has participated in competitive and recreational riding, and she turns to horses to balance out stressful work weeks. Now, Murphy serves as a volunteer and board member for Equi-librium, a riding program that provides people with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to use horses as a means for therapy.
“I love being outside, I love being with the animals, I really enjoy the sense of community that riders have,” Murphy said.
Murphy is a mentor to other volunteers at Equi-librium. She teaches others to lead programs, manage events and help people who come to Equi-librium. Murphy also volunteers for the Special Olympics equestrian team.
Linda Lechner, a fellow volunteer for Equi-librium and Special Olympics, has worked closely with Murphy in her volunteer work.
”She is very, very passionate about her involvement in both Equi-librium and Special Olympics. She has a vast amount of knowledge and a real love of horses that she’s really happy to share at the same time she supports the community,” Lechner said. “There’s no doubt that she’s doing it to help others. That’s definitely ingrained in her.”
Lechner met Murphy in 2014 through volunteering at Equi-librium.
Murphy is empathetic to people who deal with health problems. Her focus is driven by her passion, and she constantly seeks to serve others.
“I live with anxiety and depression,” Murphy said. “I am very lucky that, most of the time, those two are really well controlled, but I understand the impact they can have on someone’s life.”
In a world where mental health is becoming more commonly talked about, Murphy will always strive to break the stigma around mental illness.
“The stigma around mental health is a challenge to us on so many levels,” Murphy said. “There’s still a feeling among a lot of people that mental illness is really frightening and they don’t want to engage on it.”
In her personal and professional life, Murphy is motivated to change lives. Professionally, she fights to help people with mental illness. Personally, she uses her love for equestrianism to make an impact.
Murphy will continue her lifelong pursuit of breaking the stigma, regardless of obstacles that are in the way.